With the excessive summer heat, a lot of people and animals are flocking to the water to cool down. One thing you need to keep in mind about the water this time of year is the possibility of blue-green algae. Blue-green algae flourishes and blooms in the summer heat, making swimming dangerous for all and deadly for some. Not trying to be overly alarmist, but every year there are deaths of dogs and illnesses in people and kids all because of this icky goo lurking in the water. Now, most of the Columbia River around here gets treated for blue-green algae by the Army Corps of Engineers. They will start in a few weeks, in fact. But many lakes, streams, or other rivers do not get treated and could put you and your pup at risk. 

Blue-green algae

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can be identified and managed with some key steps to ensure safety: 

Identification: Blue-green algae typically appear as floating colonies that can make water look like "pea soup" or cause it to change color. Unlike true algae, they lack roots or leaves and can sometimes form scums on the water's surface. 

Where They Grow: They thrive in warm, still, shallow waters, often in secluded bays or beaches where water is stagnant. Wind can also push blooms across a lake. 

Toxin Production: Not all blooms produce toxins, but when they do, microcystin is the most common toxin. This toxin can be harmful to humans and animals, causing symptoms ranging from skin irritation to more severe health issues. 

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Safety Precautions: 

  • Avoid Contact: If you suspect a bloom, stay out of the water until it's tested and deemed safe. 
  • Monitoring: Local authorities or organizations like the Lilly Center monitor water bodies regularly for cyanobacteria and toxin levels. They provide data and guidelines on safe water usage. 
  • Reporting: Report suspected blooms to local authorities so they can take samples and assess the risk. 

If you encounter suspected blue-green algae, it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid contact until water tests confirm safety. 

LOOK: Here are the best lake towns to live in

Many of the included towns jump out at the casual observer as popular summer-rental spots--the Ozarks' Branson, Missouri, or Arizona's Lake Havasu--it might surprise you to dive deeper into some quality-of-life offerings beyond the beach and vacation homes. You'll likely pick up some knowledge from a wide range of Americana: one of the last remaining 1950s-style drive-ins in the Midwest; a Florida town that started as a Civil War veteran retirement area; an island boasting some of the country's top public schools and wealth-earners right in the middle of a lake between Seattle and Bellevue; and even a California town containing much more than Johnny Cash's prison blues.

Gallery Credit: Peter Richman

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