Unprecedented levels of harmful algae in Smith Mountain Lake cause swimming advisory

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 6:11 PM EDT
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SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Virginia Department of Health is warning people to avoid swimming in parts of Smith Mountain Lake.

They are asking people not to swim in parts of the Blackwater region of the lake due to numerous reports of harmful algal blooms.

The toxins produced by the algae can discolor the water and appear as light blue or green scum in areas close to the shore. If ingested, the toxins could cause fever, headaches, diarrhea and vomiting.

“Our little ones our children and our pets are most at risk to particularly toxin exposure because they’re more likely to drink the water because they don’t know better,” said Margaret Smigo, Waterborne Hazards Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health. “Pets in particular, after they go swimming, may lick their paws and continue to absorb toxins externally.”

The harmful algal blooms are caused by runoff and flourish under sunlight and high temperatures.

They have been studying the algae for around 12 years. This year, it is taking much longer for the toxins to go away on their own.

“It’s a good thing that in prior years we’ve not had a lot of difficulty in capturing the event itself, and that it diminished very quickly. With what we have right now, it’s essentially unprecedented for the lake. So, this is a new and emerging issue for Smith Mountain Lake, particularly the Blackwater River,” added Smigo.

Recreation such as boating, fishing, and kayaking are all safe in the advisory areas, as long as you wash with clean water after.

“The State Park is located in the section of the lake where we currently don’t have an advisory issued there. So, we would recommend folks recreate in those parts of the lake,” said Smigo.

The Virginia Department of Health has an online map that shows the algal bloom areas to avoid.

Due to the newness of the harmful algae bloom levels, they say more research is needed to know how to best lower them.