Here in Forest County our landscape is adorned with over 800 pristine lakes that provide a serene environment for recreation and aquatic life. However, in recent years, these beloved lakes have been facing a growing threat from blue-green algae, scientifically known as cyanobacteria. Blue-green algae blooms, fueled by nutrient pollution and climate change, have become a concerning issue, impacting water quality, human health, and the ecosystem.

Blue-green algae blooms are primarily driven by two factors: excessive nutrients and rising temperatures. Nutrient pollution, often stemming from agricultural runoff, stormwater runoff, and wastewater discharge, can introduce high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen into the water. These nutrients serve as a feast for blue-green algae, enabling them to multiply rapidly and form blooms. Rising temperatures, linked to climate change, create favorable conditions for these organisms to thrive, promoting the growth and persistence of blooms.

The explosion of blue-green algae blooms can have severe consequences for both the environment and human health. These blooms can deplete oxygen levels in the water, leading to fish kills and harm to other aquatic organisms. When the blooms die off, decomposition consumes even more oxygen, which causes even more problems. Some blue-green algae produce toxins known as cyanotoxins, which can pose serious risks to human and pet health if ingested through water contact, inhalation, or consumption of contaminated fish. Exposure to cyanotoxins can lead to symptoms such as skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in extreme cases, liver damage.

Forest County lakes are a hub for recreational activities like swimming, boating, and fishing. Blue-green algae blooms can severely curtail these activities, as health advisories are often issued to warn against water contact during a bloom.

Tourism, a significant economic driver for the region, can suffer due to the presence of unsightly and potentially harmful blooms, deterring visitors and affecting local businesses that rely on tourism.

Efforts to combat blue-green algae blooms require a multi-faceted approach that addresses nutrient pollution and climate change. Here are some mitigation strategies:

Nutrient Management: Implementing best management practices to reduce nutrient runoff from agricultural and urban areas can help lower nutrient inputs into lakes. This includes measures like using cover crops, minimizing fertilizer use, and upgrading wastewater treatment facilities.

Riparian Buffer Zones: Planting native vegetation along lake shorelines creates buffer zones that help filter out pollutants, reduce runoff, and prevent nutrients from entering the water.

Septic System Maintenance: Proper maintenance of septic systems is crucial to prevent nutrient leakage into groundwater and subsequently into lakes.

Climate Action: Addressing climate change through greenhouse gas reduction initiatives can help mitigate the temperature-related factors that contribute to blue-green algae growth.

Public Awareness and Monitoring: Educating the public about the risks of blue-green algae blooms and promoting responsible nutrient management practices is vital. Regular monitoring of water bodies for early detection of blooms can also aid in timely response.

We’ve had one report of a possible outbreak of blue green algae in a Forest County Lake.  We investigated and concluded it was filamentous algae, which isn’t a health risk.  We do have chemical test kits in our office.  If you suspect an outbreak of blue-green algae, please contact the Land & Water office and we’ll investigate.

Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County Land & Water Conservation Department. For more information contact Steve Kircher, County Conservationist-Land Information/GIS Director at 715-478-1387 or by e-mail at .