Lake Anna: Safe to Swim In?

Lake Anna is a popular spot for swimming and fishing, but many people are wondering if it is safe to swim in year-round. Annual reports of algae blooms have some people concerned, and they are asking if the water is safe.

The Virginia Department of Health responds to complaints regarding blooms around the state through the Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) Task Force.

For the last several years, the North Anna Branch has been under a recreational swimming advisory late in the hot season, usually starting in July. The health department collects samples and reports what they find. The toxins can be just above or just below detectable levels, and the advisory will be made public. The health department recommends that people be aware of algae blooms and avoid water that is discolored or smells, and report any dead fish present.

What are harmful algae blooms?

Harmful algae blooms (HABs) are overgrowths of algae that can produce toxins. These blooms can occur in both fresh and salt water, and they have been reported in every state. Some types of HABs can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and gastrointestinal illness in people and animals.

How do I know if there is a bloom?

Algae blooms can vary greatly in size, appearance, and location. They can be large or small; floating on the surface or near the bottom; dense or diffuse; red, blue-green, brown, yellow, orange, or purple; and stationary or moving.

Some blooms may not be visible to the naked eye, but they can still release toxins. The best way to determine if a bloom is present is to look for one or more of the following:

  • Discolored water
  • Surface scum
  • Foam
  • Bad odor

What should I do if I see a bloom?

If you see an algae bloom, avoid contact with the water and keep children and pets away. If you come into contact with blooms or HAB toxins, rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible. If you have any symptoms after exposure, call your doctor or seek medical attention. Symptoms may include skin irritation, diarrhea, vomiting, and respiratory problems.

Visitors and residents of Lake Anna who are concerned about the bloom are more likely to avoid the north side of the lake during mid to late summer. But does that mean it’s unsafe to swim in?

We asked Lake Anna what they think about the safety of the water:

“It gets really bad if water level is low in upper areas…and it can be bad after heavy rain falls from all the run off. Stay safe!! I usually go by if it looks icky and really bad don’t get in it…and really use good judgment with dogs. And always shower after!! If you have a cut or open wound do not go in water!” – A.B.

“We’ve been on the lake since the late 70’s and definitely have experienced some symptoms/issues over the past 4 or 5 years. Hard to know if it’s the algae or one of the 1000s of other pollutants that wash down from the vast watershed. My opinion is that the shallow portions of the lake have been collecting all this sediment for 40 years, and it’s finally to the elevation where the boat traffic is churning it up and we are experiencing the overburden more now than in the past.” – A.G.

“We do not swim in any area’s that they show red, go down lake until next season for all swimming/tubing. Some people either don’t know or don’t care?” – M.K.

“The only time I saw the bloom bad was at sandbar one fri eve couple years ago lime green bubbles. Didn’t get in water of course. Other then that been in the water when they report algaebloom but wouldn’t swim in lime green water. I’m still here!! Lol.” – S.H.

“I usually just check the water when it’s calm in the morning. If it has a green film or green bubbles, we head downstream to deeper water before jumping in. So far this year we have been lucky but I suspect after the rains we just had, sunny days and the temps going up we are going to see blooms here shortly. Upper Pamunkey.” – A.G.

“Kick the HAB” a new effort by the Lake Anna Civic Association

The Lake Anna Civic Association is piloting a bacteria monitoring and mitigation program

to help minimize the harmful algae problem on the lake. The effort would be successful by keeping Cyanobacteria growth in check before it reaches critical threshold cell amounts that would trigger a VDH HAB warning.

Get more information about the LACA effort here.

Here is the current Algae Bloom Surveillance Map

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