BILLINGS — A summer swim is a great way to beat the triple-digit heat plaguing Billings and great swimming conditions also make great conditions for potentially harmful algae in area lakes.
Late summer into early fall is the peak time for blue and green algae blooms, and because of that, there’s usually always a chance that someone recreating in the water can run into them. The levels are generally too low to be harmful.
"One of the concerns is how do you get sick from it? So, you can get itchy skin just from being in, but the issues would arise if you drank the water. Which is one of the reasons it's important to not have your dogs running around the water if you have any concern for it. The biggest thing is when you’re looking at the water and you’re thinking it maybe doesn’t look great, then don't get in. There's a saying, if in doubt stay out," said Mike Ruggles, Billings-based regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Because the algae needs to be ingested to cause harm, dogs are at a higher risk when they try to drink from the water's edge near where the algae collect on shore. That risk isn't worth it for some owners.
"I have heard that people have lost their pets and have had to take them in from being quite sick from it after drinking the water that have blooms in it. So, it’s a concern. I have a dog but I left her at home just in case," Billings resident Lindsey Crowe said at Lake Elmo Wednesday.
For people, the risk is usually just itchy skin, which can be avoided with a shower soon after you get out of the water.
"If you don’t drink it, and you take a shower right away afterwards at this low caution level you’re likely to be fine," said Ruggles.
Ruggles said there are three levels to the bloom. The risk rises as the levels do but currently it's not a cause for tremendous concern.
"The first one is, it's detectable, it's visible it comes in low levels. The next one is that it's more detectable and it can start to become an issue for either animals or people. We notify the public, we put information, news releases, things like that. The third tier is an actual closure. In 2019, we had a couple days where we hit that level. We had a lot of blue-green algae washing up on the shore and we closed the pond for a couple days before we reopened it. Haven’t come anywhere near that in the most recent bloom," added Ruggles.
Despite the heat, Ruggles says any risk from the bloom should all be coming to an end soon.
"It’s abnormally warm here today so it may stretch it out a little longer, but we anticipate that tests in the next few weeks will show no detect again," said Ruggles.