Local “Watershed Watchdogs” Needed to Report Harmful Algal Blooms
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is seeking your help in locating harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the headwaters region of the Raritan River Watershed and throughout the state. Citizens can now report a suspected HAB by calling the DEP Hotline at 1-877-WARNDEP (927-6337) or send a mobile alert through the WARN NJDEP mobile app (available via iTunes, Google Play or Windows Phone).
HABs are caused by naturally occurring blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, single-celled organisms that rely on photosynthesis to turn sunlight into food. While present under normal conditions in freshwater lakes and streams, excessive nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen, high water temperature, and still water can cause cyanobacteria to grow excessively and become a HAB. You may recall the HAB incident at Lake Eerie that led the city of Toledo, Ohio to warn their residents to avoid drinking tap water back in 2016. Of the 17 potential HABs reported in New Jersey so far this year, 12 have been confirmed as harmful algal blooms according to the NJDEP’s HAB website.
A bloom of cyanobacteria has the potential to produce toxins that pose a health concern, but this is not always the case. Sometimes cyanobacteria cells may be abundant in a waterbody, but toxin levels do not exceed the healthy advisory guidance levels. Advisory signs to avoid contact with the water will be posted if a bloom is suspected. If follow up tests reveal that the toxins exceed the health advisory guidance levels, signs with stronger language will be posted to warn of the danger/high risk and state that there should be no contact with or ingestion of the water.
According to the NJDEP, a HAB may appear in the water as “bright green, but can also appear as spilled paint, ‘pea soup,’ or as having a thick coating or ‘mat’ on the surface.” It is important to note that a HAB may be confused with a non-harmful algae bloom which is non-toxic. The NJDEP has provided photos of non-harmful algal blooms to help you distinguish the difference.
Here are recommendations from NJDEP’s August press release:
When a suspicious bloom is observed, people are advised to Avoid It and Report It by following these steps:
- Avoid contact with water in the vicinity of the bloom, especially in areas where the bloom is dense and forms scums;
- Do not drink or consume the water;
- Do not eat fish from the waterbody;
- Keep pets and livestock away from the water;
- Do not allow animals to drink the water, eat dried algae, or groom themselves after coming into contact with the water;
- People, pets and livestock that come into contact with a bloom should rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible;
- Seek medical attention or a veterinarian if a person or animal is experiencing adverse health effects after exposure to a bloom;
- Report a suspected HAB to NJDEP!