Green algae's bloom returns to Clear Lake

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Blue-green algae is once more in bloom in Clear Lake, prompting warnings for people and pets to avoid scummy areas of the lake and taking a hit on some area businesses.

The algae, actually a cyanobacteria, is a regular occurrence in Clear Lake that tends to accompany hot weather.

“Cyanobacteria has been blooming in Clear Lake for hundreds of years,” said Scott De Leon, the county’s water resources director.

Some people say it’s the worst bloom they’ve seen in years, but others contend it’s better than the past two to three years.

“This is not as bad this year as we’ve had in past years,” said Terry Knight, who writes for several outdoors publications and a Lake County newspaper.

The algae bloom primarily is a stinky, slimy nuisance, but some of its many types — of which there are nearly 200 — can produce skin irritations, liver failure or neurological damage. It was suspected, but was not confirmed, to have caused the death of a visitor’s dog last year.

The recent bloom began about a week ago. It comes at a time when Lake County businesses, still reeling from the recession, can ill afford another downshift in tourism.

“Compared to five years ago, we’ve probably lost 50 percent of our business,” said Bob Higgins, owner of Limit Out Bait and Tackle in Clearlake Oaks.

He said the algae bloom certainly isn’t going to help.

“It’s starting to irritate people, as far as the stink,” Higgins said. “Definitely it’s going to hurt” business, he said, noting fishermen don’t want to deal with slimy residue on their boats.

People already were shunning the lake, likely because of its low level, Higgins said. The lake is now at minus-0.11 on the Rumsey scale, which is used to measure the lake’s level.

The low lake levels have forced local and state officials to close many of the public boat-launching ramps, potentially contributing to the business slump. But Clear Lake is in better shape than most other lakes in Northern California, so that’s probably not a big factor for low tourist turnouts, Knight said.

“Tourism is down everywhere,” he said.

Some businesses are doing better than others.

Arlene Perez, a receptionist at the Skylark Shores Resort in Lakeport, said it’s doing fine and she doesn’t think the algae bloom has had any effect.

But Lakeport tends to fare better than areas to the south because of prevailing northern winds that move the algae to the south, where it gets trapped in coves.

“It’s just bad” in Clearlake Oaks, Higgins said.

Because it’s impossible to tell visually whether algal blooms are toxic, Lake County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait recommends that people stay out of algae-thick waters and promptly wash off after swimming. Pets should be prevented from ingesting affected water and washed off before they can lick themselves clean, De Leon said.

The water that comes from area taps, however, should be safe. State water officials say cyanobacteria toxins in previous years have been detected in lake water just outside of area water treatment plants but none of the treated water has ever tested positive, indicating the treatments are effective against toxins.

“We have not had a drinking water issue” with cyanobacteria in Clear Lake, said Amy Little, an engineer with the state water board’s division of drinking water. But such testing is not done regularly and is not required. There is not yet a federal or state safety standard for the different types of cyanobacteria toxins, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.

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