Shown are microscopic algae samples.

The Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) has received several reports recently of green colored algae that have accumulated in some coves.

There are three major grouping of algae: diatoms, green algae and blue-green algae. Of the three types of algae only blue-green algae have strains that can potentially produce toxins that can be harmful to animals and humans. In 2019 only 12 percent of the algae found in Smith Mountain Lake (SML) were blue-green algae, and there were only very small amounts of the strains capable of producing toxins.

In samples collected by local residents, which were analyzed by Dr. Bob Pohlad of Ferrum College, blue-green algae capable of producing toxins were found in concentrations higher than we normally find at SML. Dr. Pohlad’s findings are included below. Algae blooms are transitory in nature and therefore tend to dissipate.

We do not recommend that you swim or let your pets swim in areas of concentrated algae. Once the algae have dissipated, it should be safe to swim there again.

Please refer to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) site reference waterborne hazards:

Below are the findings from Dr. Pohlad concerning the recent sample analysis:

“I have the results of the algal blooms. We looked at samples sent by a resident of the area around Contentment Island and one more from coves in that area. We have seen a higher than usual number of Anabaena, a blue green alga (Cyanobacterium), in recent sample counts this spring.

“With the flooding and flushes out of the streams, I am afraid this is what could be predicted as a result of warmer waters and nutrient inputs from the heavy rains. It appears that the one present is Anabaena circinalis that forms circular clusters of colonies. It can produce potentially produce toxins. Here are a couple of pictures from microscopic observations taken in our lab at Ferrum College. These clumps are what is seen floating on the surface and at times throughout the water column.

“I do think this is more harmful to fish than humans but can cause problems.

“I think there is the potential for toxins production from the blooms, unfortunately.”

Here is another article that describes more.…/docu…/2016/07/pa/fs-cyanobacteria.pdf.

While SMLA states that it is okay to enjoy the lake swimming, skiing, boating, etc., in the vast majority of the lake as the water quality is good, it is our obligation to advise you of any issues of which we become aware as soon as we know about them.

Once again, we do not recommend that you swim or let your pets swim in areas of concentrated algae. Once the algae have dissipated, it should be safe to swim there again.

Enjoy the lake and your summer.

VDH asks that we remind you of the following:

• Do not swim just after heavy rain falls, nor around ducks, geese and other birds, farm animals or wildlife.

• Avoid getting water in your mouth or up your nose.

• Do not swim with open wounds or sores.

• Everyone should always take a shower after being in the water.

The VDH message is no body of water in Virginia or elsewhere can ever be deemed “safe” in regards to pathogens that may cause disease. They do not recommend drinking any untreated water from rivers or lakes.

Additionally, some have expressed concern about water being withdrawn from SML for public drinking water supply. It is drinkable since it is treated by the “Smith Mountain Lake Water Treatment Facility,” under strict standards for public consumption.

The Smith Mountain Lake Water Treatment Facility is jointly owned by the Bedford Regional Water Authority and the Western Virginia Water Authority.

Read more stories in the current issue of the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper. Pick up a copy or subscribe at to view articles in the print and/or e-edition version.


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