Toad, Wiser lakes to be tested again for toxic algae

A sign at Wiser Lake, south of Lynden, Sept. 8, 2015, warns about toxic algae in the lake.
A sign at Wiser Lake, south of Lynden, Sept. 8, 2015, warns about toxic algae in the lake. The Bellingham Herald

How long will people and pets need to stay out of Toad and Wiser lakes, which have toxic blue-green algae blooms in them?

Until next week, at least.

That’s when the Whatcom County Health Department will test the lakes again to find out whether toxins have dropped to a level that’s safe enough for people and animals to go back in the water.

Water samples will be taken at the beginning of next week.

Yellow and black warning signs were posted Friday, Sept. 4, at both lakes.

“The warnings will be there until we’ve determined they’ve gone below the threshold,” said Greg Stern, Whatcom County health officer, of toxin levels.

Blue-green algae blooms often look like green paint or dye floating on water, but they can be bright green, blue, brown or reddish green. The algae is made up of extremely small organisms that are difficult to pick up or hold.

The state Department of Ecology took water samples from Toad, near Bellingham, and Wiser, outside of Lynden, last Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Results were well above levels considered safe by the state of Washington.

The signs warn people against:

▪ swimming or water skiing in the lakes.

▪ drinking the water.

▪ allowing pets and livestock to access the water.

▪ going into scum when boating.

People also are being told to clean fish taken from those waters and throw away the guts.

“We want them to read the warning signs and to minimize their health risk and the risks of their pets by taking them seriously,” Stern said. “We’ll take down the warnings once it’s safe.”

Most blue-green algae blooms are not toxic. But depending on conditions, the algae can release toxins into the water that, in high enough concentrations, can sicken humans and kill animals. People who drink the contaminated water may have numbness of the lips, tingling in their fingers and toes, and dizziness.

People who swim in contaminated water may develop a skin rash.

But the only way to know whether the algae, also known as cyanobacteria, is toxic is to have it tested.

Members of the Emerald Lake Property Owners Association also have been emailed about staying out of Toad Lake.

They’re hoping that the next water sample will be taken farther out in the lake instead of near the shore on the eastern side of Toad.

That’s where Beth Anderson, a Bellingham-area woman who swam in Toad Lake just about every day during summer, took a water sample Aug. 25 and had it tested after becoming concerned about the green algae she waded through.

Those results, which were well above state guidelines to protect human health in recreational bodies of water, prompted the follow-up test by Ecology.

“We’re hoping the next test they do is out mid-lake,” Anderson said, noting the wind usually blows things to that east end of the lake.

It would be nice to know if the toxins are concentrated in just that part of Toad Lake, she added.

Anderson hasn’t been swimming in the lake since the first test results came back.

“It’s much easier to take without the weather calling me to swim all the time,” she said. “Next summer it will be a whole different thing because you’ll be swimming and wondering.”

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.