It’s been a relatively mild winter, even by Florida standards, and warm, sunny days with temperatures in the low 90s are forecast for Central Florida in the coming week. But already one of Lakeland’s 37 named lakes is showing signs of heat stress with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County issuing a health alert Monday after blue-green algae toxins were found in samples collected from Lake Crago on Feb. 15.

“The public should exercise caution in and around Lake Crago,” the DOH-Polk County said in a Monday release, cautioning those with pets and with respiratory problems to be especially aware of the algae.

Lake Crago is a 50-acre lake north of Lake Parker off Lakeland Hills Boulevard. There is a city park there with an outdoor recreation complex that offers kayaking and canoeing. 

The park was open Tuesday and Liberty Outdoors was offering kayaks and canoes fore rent. There is no plans to close the park or prohibit boating, a park employee said, but signage about the health alert will be posted until it is rescinded.

Lake Crago and a portion of the city of Lakeland’s Lake Crago Outdoor Recreation Complex (photo by David Dickey Jr.)

Lakeland Lakes & Stormwater Division Manager Laurie Smith said the city has little role in the health alert and that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection conducts the water quality testing on all area lakes with publicly accessible boat ramps.

All of the area’s lakes and waterways are to some degree degraded by excessive nitrates, phosphorus and chlorophyll, which are precursor conditions to toxic algae blooms.

Last month, the Lakeland City Commission approved more than $220,000 for feasibility studies to assess two proposed projects designed to improve water quality in 2,185-acre Lake Parker, the city’s biggest lake, by corralllng stormwater runoff from and into the lake.

The DOH-Polk County said those who comes in contact with the water should wash their skin and clothing with soap, noting boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.

According to the state and county, blue-green algae are a bacteria common in Florida’s freshwater environments. Blooms occur when rapid growth of algae accumulates individual cells that discolor water and produce floating weed mats that emit unpleasant odors.

Sunny days that heat still water with excess nutrients cause the algae blooms, which can occur year-round but are more frequent in summer and fall, the DOH says.

In its Monday alert, state and county officials advise the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Water, where there are algae blooms, is not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different source of water when algae blooms are present.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish well. Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

To report a bloom to DEP, call the toll-free hotline at 855-305-3903.

To report fish kills, contact the Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute at 1-800-636-0511.

Report symptoms from exposure to a harmful algal bloom or any aquatic toxin to the Florida Poison Information Center, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak to a poison specialist immediately.

If you have other health questions or concerns about blue-green algae blooms, please call the Florida Department of Health in Polk County at 863-578-2146.

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