Upper Jade Lake

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is awaiting results of cyanobacteria tests that will determine whether the water in Upper Jade Lake, pictured, is considered dangerous. 

The Idaho Department of Environmental quality is investigating the presence of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in a heavily used lake straddling the Idaho-Wyoming state line: Palisades Reservoir.

A kayaker noticed a turquoise substance matting rocks on the lakeshore and sent photos to the state agency, which is looking into the presence of the potentially harmful algae.

“You’re right, that is cyanobacteria — blue-green algae,” DEQ water quality standards analyst Brian Reese wrote to Thayne resident Mariel Nelson in an email.

Sampling to determine the concentration of cyanobacteria cells per milliliter of water from Palisades is scheduled for Friday to tell whether the bloom is considered harmful.

Early this year, Idaho DEQ responded to a complaint of a bloom in the Big Elk thumb of Palisades, but mats of algae were not dense enough to test.

Satellite imagery suggests the current mats of algae might be restricted to the shore, Reese told the Jackson Hole Daily in an interview.

“It looks like the reservoir is low enough that everything is not in the water,” he said. “But that’s still attractive to animals, and it still has the toxins.”

In Wyoming, environmental scientists are investigating reports of potentially harmful blue-green algae in three Togwotee Pass lakes: Upper and Lower Jade lakes and Pelham Lake. Complaints were received Sept. 15, and DEQ staff took samples Tuesday. Typically, results from samples are posted to WyoHCBs.org within a week.

Those weren’t the first blue-green algae alerts in Northwest Wyoming this past summer. In August, a health advisory was issued for Brooks Lake — likely the highest-elevation water body in the state to have ever had a confirmed cyanobacteria issue.

Cyanobacterias naturally occur and are considered benign at low levels. Environmental conditions like warm weather, drought or pollutants such as fertilizer can facilitate blooms, which pose a health risk to humans, pets, livestock, wildlife and aquatic life.

Wyoming State Public Health Veterinarian Karl Musgrave said dogs and cyanobacteria is a particularly worrisome blend.

“It seems that we have much more trouble with dogs jumping in and swimming and drinking,” Musgrave said. “It’s much less risk for humans. You’d have to ingest quite a bit of water to be impacted by the toxins.”

Musgrave said several suspected algae-related dog deaths have been reported to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, including more than one this year. There are no blood tests to conclusively connect the deaths to algae, but he said there’s ample reason to be wary of letting dogs swim in algae-choked waters.

“The circumstantial evidence is pretty solid,” Musgrave said.

It has proven to be a record year for harmful cyanobacterial blooms in Wyoming, according to the DEQ’s database, with 18 advisories issued to date, mostly in the eastern part of the state.

A report of a harmful bloom was also recently investigated in Shoshone Lake outside of Lander. As with the lakes on Togwotee Pass and at Palisades, the results of sampling are pending.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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