Potentially toxic blue-green algae back at Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin

As weather heats up, so does the risk of toxic algae, and the City of Austin says it's back at Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin.

The City says blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, was found at all monitoring sites except for Walsh Boat Landing between May 2 and May 12.

Certain species of blue-green algae can produce toxins which are harmful to people and pets.

Testing takes time, so the City says you should assume that the algae found on the lakes may be toxic.

The City recommends:

  • People and pets should avoid contact with algae
  • Do not drink water directly from the lake
  • Rinse off after contact with the water
  • Do not allow dogs to lick their fur prior to rinsing.

"Whenever somebody is visiting a water body, they should be mindful of what the conditions look like. Are they seeing any fouling of the water, scums, floating mats, discoloration, odd smells? And take that into consideration before getting into a water body," Brent Bellinger, conservation program supervisor with the Watershed Protection Department said. "Usually backwater areas tend to be where these things accumulate the most. So, you know, stick to the flow ways, stick to the open water."

The city has used a treatment called Phoslock the past couple of years to try to stop the growth of toxins.

"We're looking for trends and patterns and seeing what the effect of doing this is on cyanobacteria and what that means moving forward," Bellinger said.

Dog owners who were on the trail by Lady Bird Lake share how they feel about the possibly toxic algae.

"We do get in the water, but we pick and choose where we do, so we usually like the Barton Springs runoff, it's a really nice place, because hopefully if people can swim so can dogs," Hugh Hunger said.

"I don't get in the water, I don't let my dog get in the water," Elliott Gray said.

As a reminder, swimming is prohibited in Lady Bird Lake.

As part of the routine algae monitoring program, the City conducts biweekly visits to Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin during the summer and early fall.

Results from their tests will be posted at AustinTexas.gov/Algae as soon as they are available.

The City is not currently monitoring creeks for harmful algae, but they say it could be present along with bacteria, such as E.-coli, parasites and other dangers.

They recommend not getting in the water if it is warm, stagnant or if you see scum, film or algae.

Due to the risk of bacteria, they say you should also avoid natural water bodies for at least three days after it rains and if lots of dogs are present.

If you have sudden, unexplained symptoms after swimming, you should contact your medical provider or the Texas Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. 

For a pet, contact your veterinarian. 

You should also let the City know by completing the reporting form, found at AustinTexas.gov/Algae.

On Lady Bird Lake, the City has documented harmful algae proliferations every year since 2019, when several dogs died after swimming in the lake. 

On Lake Austin, algae sampling began in 2020, and harmful algae has been detected on that lake every year since then.