The city has monitored both raw lake water and treated drinking water for blue-green algae and related cyanotoxins, which can make people and animals sick by causing liver and kidney damage, among other issues. Cyanobacteria can also affect the odor and taste of water.
By conducting the test themselves with newly purchased digital imaging and water analysis equipment, Austin Water will be able to reduce the turnaround time for results from several weeks to 24 hours.
“We have a team focused on preparing for a cyanotoxin event, who have been implementing strategic plans for more than a year to be ready if the worst were to happen,” said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros in a statement. “We take this threat very seriously, and I’m proud of the vigilance and proactive measures our laboratory analysts and treatment team have put in place to detect and treat for cyanotoxins.”
According to Austin Water, the city has never detected the presence of cyanotoxins in its drinkable water supply above the Environmental Protection Agency's advised levels. But water bodies in the area have tested positive for toxins produced by blue-green algae, prompting concern about the potential for dangerous bacteria to spread in the city's water supply.
Most recently, a toxin called cylindrospermopsin was found in Barton Creek at Sculpture Falls, and Austin Water raised the alarm on Sept. 23 that people and animals should not swim in or consume the water. Additionally, in 2019, five dogs were confirmed to have died after swimming in Lady Bird Lake and being exposed to blue-green algae.
More information about Austin's efforts to monitor algal blooms in local waterways can be found here.