Toxic Algae – updated 8/25/21

Cottage Lake Algae Watch:

The sample submitted for toxin testing from Cottage Lake on 8/23 came back with a microcystin at level of 13 µg/L, exceeding the recreational use guideline of 8 µg/L. Based on this result, the lake is considered unsafe for swimming (see yellow warning here: https://www.nwtoxicalgae.org/HealthRisks.aspx)

Next sample date 8/30/21

Lake Water Quality Issues:

Cottage Lake contains high phosphorus concentrations and is therefore on Washington State’s 303(d) list of lakes not meeting state water quality standards. High phosphorus levels lead to increased algae blooms that impact water quality and the long-term usability of a lake. These algae blooms, when severe, are potentially toxic to humans. Past studies show that phosphorus is coming primarily from incoming streams (Daniels Creek and Cottage Creek). Other suspected sources include harmful lawn-care products and ill-maintained septic systems.

What Can You Do?
To minimize the amount of phosphorus your own activities may be contributing to nearby water, there are a number of very helpful things that people living in the watershed can do:

  • Minimize use of phosphorus cleaners. Clothes-washing detergents have been phosphorus free since the 1970s, but other cleaners often still contain it. Read the labels to see which products contain phosphorus and try the ones without it. With our soft water, they should be very effective.
  • Wash your car at a car wash that recycles its water, keeping soaps and road dirt out of the surface waters of the watershed. If you must wash your car at home, use water only.
  • Use low or no phosphorus fertilizers on your lawn. Grass needs nitrogen and potassium
    in fertilizers to become lush and green. It doesn’t need the phosphorus for good color or
    leaf production and the excess phosphorus will leach out when you water, getting into streams and lakes.
  • Don’t dispose of grass clippings in or near water.
  • Don’t feed the geese and ducks. They will congregate on beaches near good food sources and their feces will wash into the surface water and eventually into the lake.
  • Scoop your pet’s poop and dispose of it in the trash or into the septic system.
  • Keep your septic system maintained and functioning properly. Have it checked every three to five years and don’t put anything down the toilet that the system

Algae Blooms and Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae):

Due to the high phosphorus levels in the lake, Cottage Lake is home to a lot of algae (microscopic single-celled plants). During hot, sunny weather, the algae multiplies quickly and this is referred to as an “algae bloom”(algae forms large dense patches visible on the surface of the water). Most species of algae are harmless and the blooms are just a nuisance. Cyanobacteria (commonly referred to as “blue-green algae”, but really a bacteria) is another organism living in the lake that multiplies during warm, sunny weather – again, cyanobacteria is generally harmless, but some can produce toxins which can be harmful to animals and humans. In particular, Microcystis (a type of cyanobacteria) has produced toxin blooms in other lakes in our area in the past (including Lake Sammamish). Another type of cyanobacteria has also been linked to swimmer’s itch.

Articles on Algae or treatments:

WA State Department of Health Information: https://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Contaminants/BlueGreenAlgae

This chemical turns polluted green lakes clear. Is it safe?https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/aluminum-sulfate-clears-polluted-lakes-algae-blooms/

Across U.S., Eruptions of Toxic Algae Plague Lakes, Threatening Drinking Water and Recreation
https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2019_microcystin/

Useful Links:

Identification of blue-green algae:
https://www.nwtoxicalgae.org/Gallery.aspx
https://www.king5.com/article/news/is-that-algae-safe-how-to-identify-blooms-in-washington-waters/281-29e2f871-a167-4770-ae8c-ff35d97f8011

Possible Grant Sources:
https://ecology.wa.gov/About-us/How-we-operate/Grants-loans/Find-a-grant-or-loan/Freshwater-algae-program-grants#ApplicantGuidance

Environmental Working Group on Toxic Algae:
https://www.ewg.org/key-issues/water/toxicalgae

Testing History:

  • Aug 18th, 2019 – samples again “below the recreational guidance value” and therefore safe for water access
  • Aug 5th, 2019 – two weeks of good samples so the lake has been re-opened
  • July 21st, 2019 – lake closed and warning signs up (see https://www.nwtoxicalgae.org/ for latest status)
  • August 30th, 2018 – lake closed and warning signs up (lasted until early October)
  • Sept 2017: King County ​tested the sample we gave them and it contained high levels of microcystins, which is a common toxin produced by blue-green algae. The lake was closed (no swimming, keep pets out) for several weeks (until the samples were below the health limit). This was the third year in a row where we had a toxic algae bloom at the end of a hot summer.