Blue-green algae spotted in Abiquiú Lake wasn’t enough for federal officials to shut down water activity as they did last year, but it seemed to scare away some visitors.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of people out here today,” John Mueller, Abiquiú Dam operations project manager, said Friday. “That [algae] definitely has an effect on our visitation. It happened last year.”
Rangers saw a few small blooms in the water, only a fraction of last year’s infestation that prompted federal officials to close the lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said.
The rangers have posted warning signs around the recreational area so people can make informed decisions about going in the water, Mueller said.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the dam and reservoir, on Friday mistakenly sent out last year’s news release to media announcing the lake was temporarily closed because of toxic algae blooms.
Mueller said he doubts the erroneous news release discouraged anyone from coming.
It’s more likely that people saw the signs and didn’t want to deal with algae, especially swimmers, Mueller said.
Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can cause rashes, hives or, in a higher dose, blisters.
Breathing in water droplets with algae can cause a runny nose, irritated eyes and throat, asthma-like symptoms and possibly allergic reactions.
Swallowing algae-tainted water can cause nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Heavier doses can be neurotoxic, with symptoms appearing within 20 minutes after exposure.
It’s seldom fatal to humans, though some dogs that have swum in algae blooms have died because they drank the contaminated water, Mueller said.
Blue-green algae forms in warm, slow-moving water, such as in a lake. The water is usually tainted with nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen carried by runoff from agriculture, lawns and septic tanks.
Mueller said Friday’s drop-off in visitors was especially noticeable because the lake has been extra busy this year with people craving outdoor activity in the pandemic.
Last year’s infestation prompted officials to suspend water activities on the lake because it was New Mexico’s first blue-green algae scare and they wanted to play it safe, he said.