City Confirms “Non-Concerning” Levels of Toxins in Algae in Barton Springs; Pool Still Open

With news of toxic algae in some Austin waterways, city guidance is to not allow your pets to drink from waterways and to not allow dogs to lick their fur prior to rinsing if they’ve been in the water. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Don’t worry, the worst has not yet happened. The city has confirmed the presence of toxic algae in several local waterways, including Barton Springs, but analysis by Austin Water shows these are “non-concerning” levels of toxins in the water, meaning it’s not dangerous to humans.

The pool remains open, and the city will continue to monitor water quality at the Springs.

Toxins were detected in algae samples from May and June tests at sites including: Red Bud Isle, Vic Mathias Shores, Festival Boat Ramp, Jessica Hollis Park, Backdoor Spring on Barton Creek, Bluff Spring on Onion Creek, Harris Spring on a tributary to Onion Creek, Kizer Spring on Williamson Creek, and Cold Spring on Lady Bird Lake. The city says the extreme heat and drought have caused flow rates to decrease and creeks to stagnate, which has contributed to toxic algae formation.

This algae may not affect humans as much, but it still could be fatal to animals – in 2019, at least five dogs died after swimming in local creeks and streams. So far, the city hasn’t received reports of humans or animals falling ill this year. To avoid that, do not allow pets to drink from waterways or to lick their fur after swimming, avoid contact with mats of algae, and never drink lake water directly. These are good rules for any natural waterway at any time, as bacteria like E. coli and parasites are often present in water that is warm, stagnant, or holding visible algae. The city’s press release suggests that “you should also avoid natural water bodies for at least three days after it rains or if a lot of dogs are present.”

To understand and mitigate the rising prevalence of algae in Austin water, the city has partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to study the causes over the course of the summer and fall. When the study is completed, the city will share its data publicly. The city is also in its third year of a pilot application of PhosLock on Lady Bird Lake – a clay product that binds and buries phosphorus, a contributing factor to algae production. The Lower Colorado River Authority also announced toxic algae found in Lake LBJ and Inks Lake today.

“We haven’t tested algal material in lakes Buchanan, Marble Falls or Travis this summer, but there is every reason to believe algae there are producing toxins as well,” LCRA’s John Hofmann said in a release. “I can’t stress this strongly enough – don’t take an unnecessary risk with your family, friends and pets. If you see algae in the water, move somewhere else to recreate, especially if you’ve got your dog with you.”

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