Health officials issue toxic algae advisory for popular Idaho fishing spot

For the third time this summer, high levels of toxin-producing bacteria in water have triggered a public health advisory in Idaho, and the popular destination this time is Brownlee Reservoir along the Snake River.

A press release issued Friday by Southwest District Health advised people to avoid swimming and other water activities in Hells Canyon Reservoir straddling the Idaho-Oregon state line due to ‘a harmful algal bloom of cyanobacteria that can cause illness and death in humans and animals. Cascade Lake and CJ Strike Reservoir were subject to similar advisories earlier this summer.

Dani Terhaar, a water quality scientist with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said three blooms in one summer isn’t unusually high. Cyanobacteria occur naturally and blooms are often triggered by warm temperatures. Nutrient runoff, both natural and human-made, can also contribute to the growth of cyanobacteria.

According to the release, algal blooms can have a bad order and look like carpets, moss, spilled paint or surface scum.

South West District Health is asking people to wash their hands after handling fish from the area and to take extra precautions if they choose to eat fish caught there. People should also wash any animal skin or fur that comes in contact with the water, and avoid drinking or cooking with the water if camping in the area.

Symptoms of cyanotoxin exposure include rashes, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and wheezing, according to the release. More serious symptoms, such as liver and nervous system damage, can result from drinking contaminated water. Pets and children are at particularly high risk, including death.

Seek veterinary care if an animal becomes ill after coming into contact with water, health officials said.