The 23 miles of fresh waterways snaking through Ocean Shores are a beloved resource for residents and visitors alike, but for the foreseeable future, all recreationists should exercise moderate caution when it comes to enjoying the lakes and canals.
On July 1, a toxic algae warning was issued for the waterways following a preliminary field testing and consultation between the city of Ocean Shores and the Grays Harbor County Health Department. The testing was conducted as a result of a citizen hazard report filed with the city of Ocean Shores Planning Department.
“In response to reports of a possible Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB), City Officials conducted initial testing of water samples collected from the Grand Canal in an area north of the Mount Olympus Bridge. Preliminary results indicate the presence of toxic algae. Additional testing will be necessary to better characterize any potential threat to human and animal health,” states the advisory.
According to City Engineer and Interim Public Works Director Rober Lund, the exact factors that create a bloom of toxic algae are unknown.
“It may be a combination of the nutrients, such as phosphorus already present, stormwater runoff, lack of wind, longer days and warmer temperatures. I have been told potentially toxic algal blooms have been appearing in the Ocean Shores fresh waterways earlier and earlier in the summer over the last few years and dissipate in the fall,” he said.
Shorter days, as well as more winter-like weather, such as increased wind and lower water temperatures, will naturally kill the harmful algae without intervention. There are currently no plans to treat the fresh waterways for toxic algae.
“The Fresh Waterways Advisory Board is in the process of developing an Integrated Aquatic Vegetation Management Plan, which should help us better understand preventative measures and/or treatments. Keeping in mind that lakes are interactive systems. It is possible to alter one characteristic while upsetting another unintentionally,” Lund said.
Public Works is also working with Grays Harbor County Health Department and the Fresh Waterways Advisory Board to improve signage regarding the harmful bloom.
In the meantime, those looking to still enjoy some time out on the waterways should be aware of state and county Department of Health guidelines for toxic algae, and to exercise appropriate caution.
“A good rule of thumb for you and your pet is: when in doubt, stay out. While under an actual toxic algae advisory the Department of Health recommendations are not to swim, don’t drink the lake water, keep pets away, clean fish well and discard guts and avoid areas where algae scum is present,” Lund said.
Possible symptoms for humans may include muscle weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. Recreationists are encouraged to see their medical provider if they have come into contact with toxic algae and have any symptoms. Exercise additional caution with young children and pets near toxic algae, as they are more susceptible to symptoms and are more likely to ingest water.
Skin contact with toxic algae may also result in irritation or a rash. Rinse off any people or pets exposed to toxic algae immediately, and keep pets from licking their fur.
Residents and visitors can also consult the Washington State Toxic Algae Freshwater Algae Bloom Monitoring Program at www.nwtoxicalgae.org for updates.