Warning signs are coming down but that algae bloom could cancel the Padden Polar Dip

Hundreds of people jump into Lake Padden at the 2014 Padden Polar Dip on Jan. 1 in Bellingham, Wash.
Hundreds of people jump into Lake Padden at the 2014 Padden Polar Dip on Jan. 1 in Bellingham, Wash. eabell@bhamherald.com

A blue-green algae bloom at Lake Padden has dissipated a great deal but officials continue to monitor the water in the lead-up to the Padden Polar Dip on Jan. 1 and warn it could be canceled on short notice if associated toxin levels rise.

Several hundred people charge into the lake annually to mark a chilly start to the New Year.

The bloom was noticed earlier this month along the rock embankment that extends roughly from the tennis court to the lake’s outlet – and near the beach area at the bath house, which is the site for the Padden Polar Dip.

Most blue-green algae blooms aren’t toxic. But the algae can release toxins into the water that, in high enough concentrations, can sicken humans and kill animals who drink the contaminated water.

Water samples were taken Wednesday and tested for toxins, anatoxin-a and microcystin.

Anatoxin-a wasn’t detected. Microcystin was found but far below the level considered unsafe by the state.

So the Whatcom County Health Department is recommending that the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department take down signs that warned people and their pets to stay away from the bloom.

The visible bloom and the toxin levels have dropped since the first water sample was taken on Dec. 7, county health officials said.

But parks officials worry that sunshine the past few days could lead to a resurgence of the bloom, which could cancel the Padden Polar Dip.

“We will be extremely cautious in making this decision,” said Leslie Bryson, parks director.

The decision will be made based on whether the algae starts accumulating again and can be seen on the lake, parks officials said.

That’s in part because test results run a few days behind when water is taken from the lake for sampling, a timeline further complicated by holiday closures.

People jump into Lake Padden at the Padden Polar Dip on Sunday, Jan. 1, in Bellingham.

Bellingham Parks officials will decide no later than Dec. 31 whether the Padden Polar Dip will go this year. Its decision will be posted on the agency’s Facebook page.

The 11 a.m. Resolution Run around the lake, which is prior to the noon dip, will occur as scheduled.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea