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City confirms harmful algae presence after dog dies after swimming near Barton Springs Pool

The dog died within an hour of swimming in a section of Barton Creek.

AUSTIN, Texas — A dog died on Sunday, July 10, after swimming in an area of Barton Creek located right beside Barton Springs Pool.

The death came within an hour of swimming in the section known as "Barking Springs." While the dog's cause of death is currently unknown, toxic algae could be to blame. 

The City's Watershed Protection Department said in a July 12 release it saw "a few isolated mats of algae near rocks in this area," and took samples of the algae for testing. On Saturday, the department announced it found blue-green algae in Lady Bird Lake, which connects to Barton Creek.

Then, in a July 22 release, officials said it is likely the presence of dihydroanatoxin-a was the cause of the animal's death. This was the same toxin present in 2019 when other dog deaths were reported after swimming in Lady Bird Lake.

"Because of the rapidly flowing water, Barking Springs is less likely to have a harmful algae bloom than slower-moving waterways. However, the harmful algae was found next to and attached to rocks in pockets of still water outside of the main path of the water. It underscores the fact that harmful algae can be present in any natural waterway in Central Texas," the city said in a press release. "No toxins were detected in the water sample. As long as the toxins are only found in the algae, exposure would occur by handling or ingesting algae. Ingestion of toxins in algae may be fatal. Dogs may be exposed by drinking the water, eating the algae or licking it off their fur. People can have symptoms from these toxins as well. Because humans are less likely to ingest the algae, the risk is lower."

Toxins from blue-green algae can harm both people and animals. No toxins have been found in water samples from Lady Bird Lake and Emma Long Metropolitan Park on Lake Austin. However, toxins were found in algae samples in both locations.

A memorandum sent to the mayor and council on Aug. 4 stated that the WPD and Austin Public Health received results of two water samples taken from both the upper, shallow section of the pool and the lower, deeper section. Those results received on July 28 found a trace amount of anatoxin-a in the upper section. No toxins were detected in the samples taken from the lower section. 

The memo from WPD said the trace amounts found are "far below levels of concern." The staff took additional water samples from the same pools on Aug. 1 and found no trace of Anatoxin-a at either location. 

WPD reported that the samples taken "represent the general exposure risk for swimmers at Barton Springs." They were sampled from the top of the water and include any algae cells or filaments present. 

The memo states that WPD will continue working with APH and the parks and recreation department to assess public health risk factors and determine when monitoring in Barton Springs Pool and the area known as Barking Springs is warranted.

When toxins are found in algae samples and not water samples, that means exposure to the toxins can only be achieved through ingesting or directly handling the algae. Dogs can become exposed when they drink algae-affected water, eat the algae itself or lick the algae off their fur.

The WPD said people and animals alike should not swim in warm, stagnant water or water with "scum, film or mats of algae." Swimmers are also encouraged to rinse off after exiting the water. 

"If you or a family member or pet have sudden, unexplained illness after swimming or signs of poisoning, call your medical provider or veterinarian right away or the Texas Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222," the City said. "You may also report the suspected exposure to harmful algae to the City of Austin using English or Spanish forms available at AustinTexas.gov/Algae."

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