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Latest sampling shows Wiser Lake water quality continues to pose risk to swimmers, pets

LYNDEN, Wash. — Whatcom County Department of Health issued a press release yesterday, August 12th, reminding residents to avoid contact with the water at Wiser Lake and not allow pets to swim in or drink the lake water. Wiser Lake is 1 of 6 Washington lakes with toxin levels currently above state standards.

Caution signage has been posted at Wiser Lake since 2019 due to consistently elevated toxin levels and recent test results indicate an ongoing health risk according to the press release.

Ingestion of lake water poses the primary human health concern. Limited contact from boating or fishing is not a significant risk to people, but waterskiing, swimming or riding personal watercraft poses a greater risk since water may be accidentally ingested.

Pet owners are advised not to let their pets swim in the lake. Pets often lick their fur after swimming and may ingest toxins while grooming.

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Anatoxin is a potent toxin that affects the nervous system. This and other algal toxins are naturally occurring, although human and animal activity can impact the severity of freshwater algal blooms. Nutrients in fertilizer, pet waste, agricultural runoff and wildlife waste provide food for algal growth.

WCHD Environmental Health press release (August 12, 2022)
Wiser Lake

Water samples taken from Wiser Lake since 2014 have exceeded state recreation guidelines for anatoxin-a (1 micrograms per liter) and microcystin (6 micrograms per liter) multiple times as detailed below.

Collection DateToxinSample Concentration (µg/L)Above State Guideline
08/09/2022Anatoxin-a21.900Yes
08/02/2022Anatoxin-a9.630Yes
07/05/2022Microcystin13.000Yes
05/25/2022Microcystin124.000Yes
11/29/2021Microcystin109.000Yes
09/07/2021Anatoxin-a2.900Yes
09/07/2021Microcystin23.600Yes
06/08/2021Microcystin177.000Yes
09/01/2020Microcystin431.000Yes
07/17/2018Microcystin19.400Yes
09/06/2016Microcystin165.000Yes
08/03/2016Microcystin19.800Yes
09/21/2015Microcystin192.000Yes
09/14/2015Anatoxin-a2.320Yes
09/14/2015Microcystin325.000Yes
09/02/2015Anatoxin-a22.000Yes
09/02/2015Microcystin48.600Yes
08/22/2014Microcystin204.000Yes
Wiser Lake water sample test results for Microcystin levels. Source: WA Freshwater Algae Control Program database

There is no way to tell if an algae bloom is toxic by looking at it according to experts. Only a laboratory toxin analysis can confirm if a bloom is toxic or non-toxic.

In 2005, the Washington State Legislature established funding for an algae control program. The Freshwater Algae Control Program targets blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria) because these algae can produce toxins that pose a health risk to humans, pets, and livestock. 

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Other Whatcom County lakes from which water samples have been collected and tested over recent years include Lake Padden, Thunderbird Lake, Dickenson Lake, Silver Lake, Toad Lake and Lake Terrell. Besides Wiser Lake, lakes with samples that exceeded maximum toxin guidelines were Lake Terrell (2019) and Toad Lake (2015, 2017) according to the Washington State Freshwater Algae Control Program database.

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