What is an algal bloom? Algae blooms occur more frequently in the Spring and early Fall, and can multiply rapidly during warm weather. These blooms consist of cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae), which can cause significant health impacts depending on their concentration in the water and exposure factors. Exposure to blue-green algae can cause skin and eye irritation, and may also cause gastrointestinal problems, neurological damage, and liver disease if water is swallowed.
Pets may become ill after exposure to blue-green algae, and pet fatalities following ingestion of contaminated water have been documented.
If you think your dog has gotten into a harmful algal bloom rinse them immediately, watch for symptoms, and report the bloom to your town’s Board of Health.
Read more about cyanobacteria.
Take Action to Prevent Algal Blooms
It’s safe to assume that any chemical or bacteria that’s on the ground can eventually wash into local waterways, either from rain, irrigation, or failing septic systems, and can potentially create algal blooms. With that in mind, it’s important to take the following precautions to keep waterways clean.
Use Fewer Lawn Chemicals
- Never fertilizer before a forecasted rainstorm.
- Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly. Always follow directions and never add more than the directions call for.
- Consider switching to slow release and natural organic fertilizers instead of typical chemical fertilizers.
- Make sure to use fertilizer with no or low phosphorus, as phosphorus causes algae growth.
Dispose of Yard Waste Properly
Don’t leave yard waste in the street or sweep it into storm drains or streams. Either bag it up for town pickup, take it to your local landfill, or re-use it as compost or mulch.
- Create a compost pile with your yard waste and use the nutrient rich humus in your gardens or potted plants.
- Use grass clippings or shredded leaves as mulch around shrubs and trees. Mulch helps to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Mulch also contributes nutrients to the soil by gradually breaking down over time.
- Cover piles of dirt or mulch being used in landscaping projects to avoid runoff.
Always Pick up After Your Dog
- Bacteria from dog waste can runoff into local waterways, adversely affecting drinking water supplies and recreational opportunities, such as swimming, fishing, and boating.
- Deliberately leaving pet waste on the ground is not only unpleasant and unhealthy, it is often punishable by fines. Always pick up the waste and dispose of it in a trash can.
Maintain Your Septic Systems
A septic system is your very own on-site sewage treatment facility and is generally trouble free if you understand how it works and follow a few simple rules.
Leaking and poorly maintained septic systems release nutrients and pathogens (bacteria and viruses) that can be picked up by stormwater and discharged into nearby waterways. Pathogens can cause public health problems and environmental concerns.
Follow these tips to maintain a healthy septic system:
- Pump your tank out as necessary (generally every 3 to 5 years), and have your system inspected every 3 years.
- Use septic safe products, such as dish soap, hand soap, and toilet paper.
- Avoid using excessive amounts of chemicals and do not dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
- Do not pour grease or fats down your kitchen sink, as they solidify and can cause a blockage in the system.
- Do not flush anything that is non-biodegradable such as diapers, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, cat litter, facial tissues, and paper towels.
- Conserve water. A septic tank can only handle a limited amount of water at once, as it needs time to separate the solids and liquids, and send liquids to a leach field.
- Fix leaky toilets and faucets.
- Install water efficient toilets, showerheads and faucet aerators
- Don’t run continuous loads of laundry in one day. Spread it out over a few days to give your tank a chance to recover.
- Don’t place anything heavy on your septic tank, like a shed, swimming pool, parked car or RV. The weight of these objects can damage the tank, pipes and leach field.
- Keep the leach field clear of trees and shrubs, as the roots can damage pipes and the tank.
- Avoid garbage disposals, as they can clog the leach field and increase the frequency of needing to get your tank pumped.
- Feed the good bacteria in the septic system. Flush a liter of spoiled buttermilk down the toilet once every few months.
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