Minneapolis parks are getting the wrong kind of blooms

by Peter LaFontaine

Algae blooms are harmful to people, pets and wildlife. They're caused by runoff that picks up fertilizers and nutrients, exactly what algae needs to take off and take over. (Photo: US Environmental Protection Agency)

As May rolls into June, particularly this June, many of us are looking forward to spending more time outdoors in and around Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Unfortunately for Twin Cities-area residents, three of our most popular lakes — Cedar, Nokomis and Lake of the Isles — have developed harmful blooms of blue-green algae, meaning that it's a bad idea for people and pets to come in contact with the water for the time being.

Blue-green algae is a bacterial growth that can make people and animals quite sick. This year's blooms were exacerbated by weather conditions. Nutrient-rich runoff from farms and lawns is a main driver of algae growth in Minnesota's waters, which is why FMR is working to reduce the need for excess fertilizer. You can help too by making your yard river-friendly.

While the state is beginning to ease restrictions on work and play, most of us are still proceeding with extra caution when it comes to activities in public spaces. That said, it's still tough to have to stay on shore. When I first moved to Minneapolis, I lived a short bike ride from Lake of the Isles, and loved to see my neighbors sharing the lake to paddle and fish.

The Minnesota Department of Health notes that there's no way to tell if an algae bloom is toxic just by looking at it, and advises the following precautions:

  • Don’t swim if you can’t see your feet in knee-high water.  
  • If you’ve recently been in contact with an algae bloom, make sure to wash off with fresh water.
  • When in doubt, stay out!  
  • Don’t let dogs drink or swim in the water.

Read more about the impact of harmful algae blooms on drinking water and public health (via Minnesota Public Radio) and on links to agricultural production (via FMR.org).

With luck, these blooms on Minneapolis' lakes will clear up over the summer so we can enjoy them to the fullest. Stay safe out there, everyone!

Ready to make a difference?

Sign up to be a River Guardian so you can take action when threats to the river arise. And keep an eye on the water blog for more news on water quality.