Swimmers brave lakes where blue-green algae alerts in place amid Island heat

Swimmers brave lakes where blue-green algae alerts in place amid Island heat

A third regional lake is now included in warnings about blue-green algae blooms. Advisory signs went up at Thetis Lake Monday in addition to earlier advisory for Beaver and Elk Lakes. All three are popular swimming lakes, particularly during this heat wave.

Early Wednesday morning, people were getting ready for a day on the water at Thetis Lake, including Solomiia Pryshlik.

“It’s warm. Warmer than the ocean. Really nice, and the weather is perfect,” she said.

There’s a sign warning swimmers of a blue-green algae bloom at Thetis Lake Beach, but most people are taking the warning in stride.

Thetis Lakes is the latest in the area impacted.

“It’s what happens every year, and I think it’s more of a warning. I don’t think there is some kind of toxic algae,” Pryshlik said.

But the blue-green algae can produce toxins harmful to humans and pets, according to Dr. Murray Fyfe, a medical health officer with Island Health.

“We really need to be aware of, and take seriously, when there is a blue-green algae bloom or sign of bacteria bloom,” he said.

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At Beaver Lake, no one is going near the beach.

The water is discoloured, evidence of the blue-green algae bloom here.

“So even if you can’t see it, it’s really important that you do respect the advisories because there are health problems that can be associated with contact with the blue-green algae, and the toxins it produces,” said Fyfe. “So really important to be aware, and stay away from water when there is an advisory in place.”

Symptoms include irritated eyes, and rashes on the skin. The toxins can even impact the central nervous system.

Pets can also die after ingesting the water.

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A blue-green algae alert sign is pictured on July 10, 2024. (CHEK News)

At Elk Lake’s Hamsterly Beach, despite another advisory there, swimmers are taking the plunge, including teens Evan MacIntosh and Noah Bowes.

When asked about the algae, the teens said, “I’ll take my chances.”

It’s the region’s busiest beach, and the water here is clearer.

In late 2023, the CRD spent almost two million dollars on a system that pumps oxygen through a long pipe located on the bottom of the lake, all to reduce the number of algae blooms.

Stephen May, senior manager of Facilities and Engineering Services with the Capital Regional District, said the benefits of the oxygenator system suppresses the phosphorus that is present in the bottom level of the lake.

“We are confident that we are having an impact. What’s not known is how big is the impact going to be?” said May. “And do we need to introduce more oxygen, do we need to do it at different times of the year?”

While he said it looks promising, more research is necessary

“Our goal is to reduce the blooms. Whether we can reduce to zero, that certainly would be my goal, but we’ll know more as we go forward in the coming 12 to 24 months,” May said.

Blue-green algae often creates a visible sheen that can look like surface scum on the water.

FROM MAY: Blue-green algae alert remains in effect 7 months later at Elk/Beaver Lake

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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