For more information,
contact NDEE's Public Information Office:   (402) 471-4223, (402) 471-4243, or (402) 471-4245

All About NDEE: Harmful Algal Bloom Sampling

The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) and its partners are preparing to start harmful algal bloom (HAB) sampling season at Nebraska’s public lakes.

Between May and September, the state tests for HABs at 50 public lakes (55 beach sites) each week to protect public health. HABs, also referred to as toxic blue-green algae, refer to certain strains of cyanobacteria that produce the toxin microcystin.

NDEE’s Public Beach Monitoring Program is on the forefront of national sampling and public notification for Harmful Algal Blooms. This effort between NDEE and its partners first began in 2004 and was sparked because two Nebraska residents reported their dogs had died after drinking the water from HABs located at two private lakes. The dogs were confirmed to have lethal concentrations of microcystin.

Following this event, NDEE, Nebraska Health and Human Services, Nebraska Game and Parks, University of Nebraska and other sampling partners quickly came to together to organize a monitoring and notification system. Not only do these sampling efforts protect public health by letting lake-goers know when to avoid contact with the water, it also provides additional data for these lakes.

HABs are caused by a combination of factors: water temperature, low water depths and high levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. HABs produce the toxin microcystin, which can cause skin rashes, lesions and blisters when it comes in contact with skin. More severe cases may cause ulcers inside the mouth or nose; eye or ear irritation; and blisters on the lips. Symptoms of ingestion can include headaches, nausea, muscle pains, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Severe cases could include seizures, liver failure and respiratory arrest. Though death in humans is rare, pets and farm animals have died from drinking water containing an HAB.

If test results show microcystin at 8 parts per billion (ppb) or more, NDEE, in partnership with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), will issue a health alert. When a lake is under a health alert, designated swimming beaches are closed and signs are posted at the beach to advise the public to use caution. Beaches remain closed until the lake tests below 8 ppb of microcystin.

Recreational boating and fishing are still permitted while a lake is under a health alert, but the public is advised to use caution and avoid exposure to the water. Do not let pets in the water or drink from the lake. People can still use the public areas for camping, picnics and other outdoor activities.

For those looking to swim in private lakes or other water bodies, here are signs of HABs to watch out for:
· Water that has a neon green, pea green, blue-green or reddish-brown color
· Water that has a bad odor
· Foam, scum or a thick, paint-like appearance on the water surface
· Green or blue-green streaks on the water surface
· Areas with algae that look like grass clippings floating on water
It’s also important to note that protected bays and shorelines on the windward side of the lake generally have higher concentrations of algae and potentially toxins.

To report a suspected HAB, please contact NDEE’s surface water unit at (402) 471-0096, (402) 471-2186, or at ndee.beachwatch@nebraska.gov.

If you are experiencing symptoms or illness related to Harmful Algal Blooms notify your physician and call the Nebraska Regional Poison Center at 800-222-1222 for immediate health questions. If you have general questions about human and animal exposure to HABs and related illnesses, contact the Nebraska Department of Health and Human services at (402) 471-2937 or dhhs.epi@nebraska.gov.

In addition to posting signs when a lake is on health alert, NDEE and DHHS issue press releases and post information to their social media accounts. NDEE also has a listserv, where anyone can sign up to receive health alerts directly to their emails.

Those interested can subscribe by sending an email to listserv@listserv.nebraska.gov with “SUBSCRIBE DEQ-BeachWatch (your name)” in the body of the message. Leave the subject line blank. You will receive an email to confirm your request. Once you confirm by clicking the link, you will be added to the listserv. To unsubscribe, send an email to listserv@listserv.nebraska.gov. In the body of the message, type “SIGNOFF deq-BeachWatch.”

NDEE’s sampling partners include the Central District Health Department, Nebraska Public Power District, Upper Republican Natural Resources District, Lower Republican NRD, South Platte NRD, Middle Niobrara NRD, Lower Loup NRD, Nemaha NRD, Lower Elkhorn NRD and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.