Russian River Tests Positive For Toxic Algae Year After Dog Dies

Sonoma County public health officials are warning the public to keep pets away from the Russian River because of toxic algae, a repeat of last year's warning, which ended up killing a dog who swam there.

Deputy Public Health Officer Karen Holbrook said the agency got back test results Thursday indicating a low-level blue-green algae toxin was found in parts of the river, triggering "caution" signs at all 10 public beaches.

She said while the most recent results do not trigger restrictions of recreational activity at the river, the results do indicate there could be a risk to pets and children in particular.

Last September, Brooke and Alfredo Rudas lost their dog, Posie, who died after swimming in the water, which contains a lethal toxin. The Department of Health discovered the 3-year-old Golden retriever "tested positive for Anatoxin-A, which is a blue-green algae toxin.”

NBC Bay Area
The owner of the golden retriever that died after swimming in the Russian River shared this photo of her dog with NBC Bay Area.

Toxic algae has been a problem in other waterways in the recent past, such as Lake Temescal in Oakland, which has been closed all summer, as officials point to the drought as the likely culprit.

It's common for toxic algae blooms to break out in warm weather, but the park rangers have said that the drought is likely making the situation worse. Warmer temperatures prevent water from mixing, allowing algae to grow thicker and faster. Also, warmer water is easier for small organisms to move through and allows algae to float to the surface faster. And algal blooms absorb sunlight, making water even warmer and promoting more blooms.

From the Sonoma County Department of Public Health:

“Caution” is the lowest of three levels of state recommended advisory signage (“Caution” ”Warning” and “Danger”). The Russian River is open for recreational use. However, the public should be advised that potentially harmful algae may be present. Care should be taken to keep children and pets away from algae, and prevent them from drinking river water.

Signs will include these recommendations:

  • Stay away from algae in the water.
  • Keep children away from algae in the water, on the shore and in isolated side pools.
  • Do not drink river water or use for cooking.
  • Do not let pets drink the water, or eat scum on the shoreline.
  • For fish caught here, throw away guts and clean fillets with tap water or bottled water before cooking.
  • Rinse off thoroughly with clean water after river play, particularly children and pets
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