Toxic algae cause cattle deaths in Kansas

17 June 2012

During the 1990s, toxic algae killed hundreds of cattle in South Africa (Photo: Bill Harding)

A report accessed recently has linked the recent (May) deaths of 22 cattle, on a farm in Marion County, Kansas, to toxic algae in a pond.  Regrettably the dead animals were found (!) too late to support any decent forensics to establish cause and effect.  This incident reminds me of one I worked on back in the 1990s, in which 400-odd animals died within a few days – this being South Africa’s single biggest incident of stock animal death that has been documented.  The press report is worth reading as it illustrates some of the problems surrounding the need for rapid problem identification.

Toxic algae in lakes or ponds usually arise because man has tried (ecosystem management as opposed to ecosystem…) to alter the conditions to favour something he wants to do – swim, boat, fish or just look at a body of water that resembles a swimming pool.  In most cases, the attempt to intervene is the result of another, less-noticed but man-created problem, nutrient enrichment (= eutrophication).  Too much in the way of nutrients simply leads to the growth of too many plants.  The plants are then over-controlled using, for example, herbicides, and the pond swings to being algal-dominated.

The important issue here is, as I have stated so many times before, lakes cannot be all things to all people.  There has to be BALANCE.  This fact is noted in a nice little article entitled Lake Health is Complex.  In most of the cases I have observed, the unwanted conditions have arisen due to a knee-jerk, quick-fix attempt to get rid of a problem that affects a single user-group.  But, as the aforementioned article correctly observes,

we need to stand behind a consistent, well-researched, science-based plan to reach a balance of healthy, but not overpowering, aquatic plant growth.

This is possible, but it takes time, thought and – quite often – an investment of money as well.

An algal alert has been posted for Sodus Bay, New York, while the results of tests are awaited.  In Massachusetts, the advisory for Lake Attitash has been lifted (but I expect we will see more alerts for Attitash this summer).

For Kansas, there are two lakes currently under a ‘warning status’, and a whole bunch under an ‘advisory’.  The warnings are for:

  • Memorial/Veterans Lake, Great Bend, Barton County
  • Old Herington City Lake, Dickinson County *previously an Advisory*

In Oklahoma, the USACE in Tulsa is to be lauded for commencing with a public education initiative about blue-green algae!  Well done!  I wish we had something like the USACE over here!

In Madison, there is an early seasonal warning for Lake Winnebago.

Lastly, in Cumbria (UK), Talkin Tarn is open again!

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