Algae blooms increase in Blue Mesa

“Do not drink the water”

[ By Kendra Walker ]

Increases in algae have been detected at the Blue Mesa Reservoir, and while no toxic algae has yet been confirmed from tests, recreational users are still advised to avoid contact of any kind.

“Blue green algae is currently visible all throughout the reservoir and found in highly dense quantities in the Iola Basin,” said Deanna Greco, superintendent of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. “Blue green algae can produce cyanotoxins, which have harmful effects on humans and animals (these effects vary depending on the type of cyanotoxin, level of exposure, and type of exposure), to include skin irritation, cramps, headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and in extreme cases – seizures and death. Park staff have been monitoring for cyanotoxins produced by the blue green algae since mid-July and have not detected any.”

Greco continued, “That being said, it is unpredictable exactly when the blue green algae produce cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxin production can vary greatly, spatially and temporally, so we are asking visitors to exercise caution around algae blooms and not rely on our monitoring.”

Greco said that blue green algae floats on the surface, can accumulate in mats near the shores, and often resembles thick pea soup or spilled paint. It’s typically located in areas with stagnant water, shallow water and places where the water doesn’t get a lot of circulation. “Iola Basin is where it typically happens first,” said Matt Johnson with the National Park Service. “We recommend that you go to the areas with deeper water and the western side of Blue Mesa. Bay of Chickens tends to better, with more circulation.”

Children and pets are more susceptible to cyanotoxins, so per the state guidance when blue green algae blooms are present, Curecanti recommends keeping children and pets out of the water.

Johnson reiterated, “don’t swim in it, don’t go near it, but you can fish. But we advise you to clean the fish.” There are fish cleaning stations located around Curecanti.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area also issued a press release warning that as water levels drop and temperatures rise, algae will increase.

Johnson said the algae is being monitored and tested, noting that toxic algae is typically found each summer as it gets hot and water levels are low. “We typically find it later in the year and then we’ll post signs warning people to stay away.”

“If the park does detect cyanotoxins above the state thresholds, we will change our messaging from ‘caution’ to ‘danger’ and close areas of the reservoir to full-body contact,” said Greco. Curecanti also posts updates on its website and on social media.

The release also shared that if anyone would like to help the National Park Service with monitoring efforts, download the Bloomwatch app and help report algae blooms.

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