Kelly Bertoli debated Thursday whether to take her dog to the Russian River, where signs at beaches warn visitors about potentially toxic blue-green algae lurking in the water.
But the Santa Rosa woman didn’t see how she could keep Bear away. The black Labrador retriever mix dove again and again into the river after a tennis ball at Steelhead Beach Regional Park.
“I figure I’ll just rinse him off when we get home,” Bertoli said.
Bertoli was relieved to learn that test results released Thursday found no detectable amounts in the river of the harmful toxins produced by blue-green algae — a week after similar tests triggered the public health warnings.
Despite the latest findings, Sonoma County public health officials are still urging caution along the river.
“We didn’t detect toxins, and that’s a good thing,” Dr. Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy public health officer, said Thursday. “But the conditions are still supportive of blue-green algae and we are continuing to recommend caution.”
Tests of river water collected Aug. 1 revealed trace amounts of Anatoxin-a at four beaches on the Russian River: Steelhead, Forestville Access, Monte Rio and Patterson Point. The findings prompted officials to issue a public health alert, which included posting signs at 10 beaches urging caution in and around the water. The signs will remain up.
The naturally occurring toxin attacks the central nervous system of mammals. Ingesting it can cause a variety of symptoms, including irritation of the eyes, nose, mouth and skin, gastrointestinal symptoms, muscle tremors, seizures and difficulty breathing.
A golden retriever dog died suddenly at the Russian River around Labor Day last year after it ingested toxic algae during a rafting trip. Dogs are particularly vulnerable because of their tendency to slurp up large amounts of water or eat the algae, as are children, who like to put things in their mouths.
No toxin-related health problems have been reported this year. But the warnings about the algae may explain, to some degree, why the parking lot at Steelhead was nearly empty Thursday.
“It’s super weird,” Kristen Hicks of Santa Rosa said of the sparse crowds on a warm summer afternoon at the beach.
Hicks, an emergency room nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, took advantage of her day off by floating in the river with several other nurses. Her dog, Cali, lounged on the beach in the shade of a tree.
Hicks said the fact no toxins were found in the water along the beach made her feel better about bringing the dog with her. She said one of her friends did not join the group outing Thursday over concerns about the blue-green algae.
That wasn’t the case for Mac Steiger and his partner Dave Merkel, who live in Forestville. They tossed a big stick into the river for their dog, Earl, to retrieve.
“This is just too convenient, and it’s good exercise for the guy,” Merkel said.
Holbrook said her department will continue to conduct weekly tests of the water and update the results online. She said the warning signs will come down only if there are consecutive weeks of tests showing no signs of the algae-borne toxins in the water, and only if river conditions promoting the growth of blue-green algae diminish.