The Louisiana Department of Health issued a warning this week, raising the alarm about toxic algal blooms in Lake Pontchartrain. With an abundance of heat, sunlight, and nutrients, the algae reproduce rapidly and produce toxic metabolic byproducts that can make humans sick and, in rare cases, prove fatal to pets.
A risk to humans, pets and wildlife, algal blooms are caused by excessive nutrient loading into bodies of water, which allows algal mats to develop quickly, and eventually can create hypoxic (oxygen poor) conditions that harm aquatic wildlife.
After historic flooding in the Mississippi River, the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway appears to have triggered the algae bloom. Mississippi River water can carry high levels of nutrient runoff from agricultural activities, as well as sewage from upriver sources.
A wet winter and wet spring in the Midwest, much of which is part of the Mississippi River Basin, created flooding conditions across the Midwest and the Southeast. Experts have reported that the heavy levels of precipitation belie a changing climate, which made February 2019 a record-breaking year for precipitation and flooding in Midwest. This May capped off the wettest 12 month period on record in the U.S. and was the second wettest month recorded in US history.
As the lake experiences algae blooms, be on the lookout for areas of water that look bright green, brown, or even reddish. The Department of Health warns that you should not consume fish caught in the lake at this time, and do not try to swim in the water or allow pets to swim in the water.
So far, beaches have been closed in St. Tammany Parish as well as in Mandeville. Stay safe folks!
Jesse Lu Baum is a queer writer and cartoonist originally from Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Medium.com, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Mid-City Messenger and Preservation in Print. Aside from writing, she has also worked as a non-profit home repair person, a theater bartender, and a research assistant.