Environment

This year, as in previous years, it’s likely summer in Kentucky will come with an occasional harmful algal bloom.

These algal blooms are a type of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. They can irritate your skin if you’re exposed to them for a prolonged amount of time. The algae can also cause nausea and other gastrointestinal problems.

In 2014, numerous state lakes had algal blooms. Last year, there were fewer lakes affected, but a giant algal bloom stretched down the Ohio River from Ashland past Louisville.

Kentucky Division of Water Director Peter Goodmann said this year, the state is monitoring lakes and rivers via satellite, looking for any signs that blooms are forming. Regulators are also in contact with people on the ground in state parks and at Army Corps lakes. If there’s any sign of a problem, state scientists perform water testing, as well as continue testing water bodies that had a problem last year.

Goodmann said late July, August and September are the times of year when harmful algal blooms are most likely to form. But there are a lot of variables.

“As things dry out, you have more sunny days, you have lower flows, higher water temperatures, those are more conducive to harmful algal blooms,” he said. “If we get a lot of rain and the turbidities are high and the flows stay high in the water bodies, it’s less likely.”

Goodmann said there’s still a lot that’s not known about how cyanobacteria — which are living organisms — form and compete with other algae. He said it was impossible to predict whether the spring’s weather conditions had set the stage for a summer full of algal blooms, but his scientists are keeping an eye on water bodies with high levels of nutrients, warm water and low turbidity.

“The more those conditions develop, the more likely we are to have harmful algal blooms,” he said. “And you know, we’re going to have some. It’s a matter of where and how many and how intense will they be. So we’ll just see how that goes.”

Kentucky has already had one algal bloom so far this year — Goodman said an algae called Pseudoanabaena was found in the lower Cumberland River below the dam last week. But Pseudoanabaena isn’t a big toxin producer, and Goodmann said the bloom was minor.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.