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CEO, John Higley Interview: Is toxic algae the new normal in area lakes?

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

By Jennifer Kendal | Fox 7

AUSTIN, Texas - Austin's Watershed Protection Department is still waiting on test results to determine if the algae present in Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austinis producing toxins.

Already, the Lower Colorado River Authority said several of the Highland Lakeshave tested positive for toxic blue-green algae.

2019 was the first year on record when toxic blue-green algae sickened and killed several dogs that played in the water at Lady Bird Lake. The following summer, another toxic algae bloom was detected there.

"The summer toxic algae blooms that we see are likely going to be pretty predictable, but there are other species of toxic algae that come up with a more unpredictable fashion," said John Higley, CEO and principal scientist for Environmental Quality Operations, an Austin-based laboratory that aims to detect, monitor, and eradicate invasive species.

This year the first report of harmful algae followed a February freeze, this time at Lake Travis. Test results have since detected toxins emitted by blue-green algae at Inks Lake, Lake Marble Falls, and 10 locations on Lake Travis.

"The same kind of algae is all over the Highland Lakes. It's a natural algae, but, usually, its toxins aren't released into the environment. And so, when we had that big freeze, it's moving things up, things are bursting and the toxins are getting released into the environment in a way that they normally would not," Higley said.

There is a way to predict a toxic algae bloom before it happens, according to Higley, if the LCRA is willing to pay for it. "This is something that the various people around the Highland Lakes need to get on top of, to put in some next-generation biosensors, and then, hopefully, people can feel a little more safe with their dogs swimming in the water," said Higley.

If it's caught early on, Higley said there are treatments, like algaecides, available. However, the toxins can be released by anything from extreme weather to a septic tank break, so until there is better monitoring, Higley said it's best to avoid letting pets in any water where algae are visibly present.


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