Released by: Health Services
For Immediate Release

Recreational users of the Russian River are encouraged to take precautions

Santa Rosa, CA  –  August 21, 2015  –  The Environmental Health & Safety Section (EHS) of the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) are encouraging recreational users of the Russian River to take precautions and practice healthy water habits. Signs will be going up at public beaches along the River on August 21st. 

Russian River: Blue Green Algae Status Update posted November 4, 2015 

The enhanced promotion of healthy water habits by EHS and NCRWQCB officials is prompted by detection of small amounts of blue-green algae and toxins mixed in with otherwise harmless filamentous algae in the shoreline mats.

Algae, including blue-green algae, is a normal inhabitant in many water environments. Warm water, low flows and abundant nutrients can cause algae to grow more rapidly than usual and create algal mats or “blooms.” The current drought and summer conditions are contributing to the algal blooms in the Russian River. Most algae, including blue-green algae, do not produce toxins. Some species of blue-green algae have the ability to produce toxins which can create health effects for humans and animals. It is important to note that although some blue-green algae can produce toxins, they do not do so all the time.

Comprehensive monitoring for harmful algal blooms in a body of water with ever changing conditions is difficult. Therefore, county health and water quality board officials are encouraging precautions along the Russian River. 

Algal blooms can look like green, blue-green, white, or brown foam, scum or mats floating on the water or along the shore. For safety, it is best to stay away from algal mats. If toxin is present, dogs and children are most likely to be affected. Children are vulnerable because they play in shoreline areas, drink more water than adults when swimming, and are of small body size. Dogs are especially vulnerable because they tend to drink more water and lick algae off their fur.

Blue-green algae toxins can cause a variety of symptoms including contact irritation (e.g., eye, nose, mouth and skin), gastro-intestinal symptoms (e.g., abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, liver inflammation) and neurologic symptoms (e.g., muscle tremors, seizures, difficulty breathing).

The following are recommended healthy water habits for recreational users of the Russian River:

  • Do not drink river water; 
  • Do not cook or wash dishes with river water;
  • Avoid algal scums or mats, which are found most often along the shore line;
  • Even if algae is not present, carefully watch young children and warn them not to swallow the water;
  • Do not let pets drink the water, swim through scums or mats, play near scums or mats on shore, nor lick their fur after contact with scums or mats; 
  • Wash yourself, your family and your pets with clean water after river play;
  • Consume fish only after removing guts and liver, and rinsing fillets in clean water; discard guts and livers;
  • Get medical attention immediately if you think that you, your family, or your pet might be having a reaction. Be sure to tell the medical professional about possible contact with blue-green algae.

Public Contact Information:

If you have concerns regarding your or your family’s health, contact your healthcare provider. If you have concerns regarding your pet’s health, contact your veterinarian.

For questions regarding the status of the Russian River go to the websites listed below or call the beach hotline at (707) 565-6552.

Sonoma County Department of Health, Environmental Health and Safety: http://www.sonoma-county.org/health/services/bluegreen.asp

The following websites provide more information on blue-green algae and harmful algal blooms: 

California Department of Public Health: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/environhealth/water/Pages/Bluegreenalgae.aspx

State Water Resources Control Board: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/bluegreen_algae/

Center for Disease Control:  http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/toolstemplates/entertainmented/tips/algalblooms.html


Contact Information

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County of Sonoma
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Health Services Administration
1450 Neotomas Avenue

Suite 200

Santa Rosa, CA 95405
38.433274, -122.684236