One of the biggest things I’ve learned from my almost two years as a community coordinator with Conservation Minnesota is that Minnesotan’s care a lot about water. Our survey data consistently shows water related issues being among Minnesotan’s top environmental concerns; I also to repeatedly hear concerns over water from the community members I meet with all over the west metro.
Unfortunately, these concerns are spot on. Bodies of water all over the state are under the growing threat of blue-green algae. Blue-green algae (the technical name is cyanobacteria) is a form of algae that tends to form in lakes where the water is relatively warm, stagnant, and nutrient rich from chemicals like phosphorus.
The problem is that blooms of blue-green algae give off toxins called microcystins that can be extremely harmful to people and animals that come into contact with affected waters. Add in the fact that blue-green algae tends to give a very strong swamp like odor and turns lakes a bright blue green, and you a recipe for major problems.
The important thing to remember here is that blue-green algae isn’t just a problem for rural areas with intensive agriculture or more polluted places in other states. Rather it’s a growing threat to lakes and ponds in the west metro. Recently the city of Edina and the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District detected high levels of microcystin toxins in Lake Cornelia. In fact both the city and the watershed district are now, “urging residents to stay away from the water due to public health concerns.”
Even more, back in early September someone’s beloved yellow lab became incredibly ill after swimming in Eden Prairie’s lake Riley. The culprit? You guessed it, blue-green algae.
The good news is that harmful blue-green algae blooms don’t have to be part of our surface waters. While blue-green algae is a natural part of many aquatic environments, it’s normally only present in lakes and ponds in tiny amounts. It turns into harmful blooms due to run-off pollution from things like fertilizers, grass clippings, and pet waste. Accordingly, common sense steps like reducing our fertilizer use and sweeping up leaves and grass clippings can make a real difference if enough people change their habits.
But the bigger point here is that protecting and cleaning up our waters is going to take some real work, and changes in policy, if we want to stop more lakes from becoming affected by blue-green algae. And that means our policy makers in cities, counties, watershed districts, and the state legislature are going to have to make some real changes.