Blue-Green Algae / Cyanobacteria


Many of the reservoirs in Southern Alberta are eutrophic systems, these are rich in dissolved nutrients that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life. The decomposition of this plant life results in the depletion of dissolved oxygen. Some of the reservoirs, can at warmer times of the year experience blooms of blue-green algae also known as cyanobacteria. The Milk River Ridge Reservoir is not an exception, and blooms are typically observed in August-September.

Blue-green algae - cyanobacteria is a naturally occurring bacterium that is found within many water bodies in Alberta, during periods of increased temperatures large populations can develop which releases a toxin (cyanotoxin, microcystin) that can result in death by respiratory system or liver cirrhosis and failure. While this bloom dissipated days later, It is important that if you notice blooms of this bacteria within water bodies, and water sources such as springs and watering troughs that you prevent animals and livestock from entering or consuming the water and clean out the water source.

This situation is but one that reinforces the importance of water quality on the reservoir, the County of Warner has conducted extensive work to monitor and improve the water quality of this reservoir and downstream conditions through the Milk River Ridge Water Quality Stewardship Initiative (MRRRWQSI) program. The Water Quality Stewardship Initiative involves the periodic sampling of surface runoff from tributaries of the Milk River Ridge Reservoir and the collection of surface water dip samples from the reservoir. This program evolved from preliminary investigations completed prior to 2007. In 2014, the MRRRWQSI was introduced to facilitate the continual monitoring of water conditions within the reservoir and to support conservation rehabilitation projects on nearby lands. From 2014 to 2020, the County of Warner has conducted extensive work to complete monitoring and conservation projects such as the construction of the wetland and settling ponds, revegetation and shrub planting to support habitat creation, and fencing projects to restrict access to riparian areas to cattle.

The County of Warner has released annual reports which are available, and recently Zaitlin Geoconsulting Ltd. has released a report detailing the water quality conditions of Milk River Ridge Reservoir from 2003-2019.This work is the product of productive partnerships with the Government of Alberta, Alberta Environment and Parks, the Alberta Conservation Association, and numerous volunteers from the county.

To read more about cyanobacteria, visit the following links:

Description of Blue-Green Algae, My Health

Quick Facts About Blue-Green Algae in Alberta, Alberta Environment and Parks

Check for Current Blue-Green Algae Advisories from the Alberta Health Services Website

Cyanobacteria/ Blue-green algae bloom in Milk River Ridge Reservoir

Monitoring and forecasting cyanobacteria blooms:

The Ag Service Board collects water samples from Milk River Ridge Reservoir which are analyzed for the concentration of chlorophyll-a. Concentrations of chlorophyll-a have been shown to be positively associated with microcystin concentrations (Hollister and Kreakie, 2016). Therefore, chlorophyll-a concentration data for samples collected from Ridge Reservoir, can possibly be used as a method to forecast the incidences of increased microcystin concentrations which would be indicative of increased cyanobacteria concentrations, harmful algal blooms. The ASB is pursuing the further investigation of forecasting harmful cyanobacteria blooms at Ridge Reservoir using these methods in recent grant applications.

Research into forecasting and monitoring cyanobacteria blooms is ongoing, these projects seek to develop a method to collect data and use that data to notify the public before blooms develop.

The Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN) project of the the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to develop an early warning indicator system to detect algal blooms in U.S. freshwater systems. The mission of the CyAN's project is to support the environmental management and public use of U.S. lakes and estuaries by providing a capability of detecting and quantifying algal blooms and related water quality using satellite data records. The project uses remote sensing data from Ocean Land Colour Instrument (OLCI) on Sentinel-3, Sentinel-2, and Landsat. The ASB is pursuing the further investigation of forecasting harmful cyanobacteria blooms at Ridge Reservoir using these methods in recent grant applications.

Cyanobacteria Assessment Network video

More information:

Hollister J. W. and B. J. Kreakie. (2016). Associations between chlorophyll a and various microcystin health advisory concentrations.

Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN)

Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN), U.S. Department of the Interior

Cyanobacteria Assessment Network Mobile Application (CyAN app)

CyAN: Cyanobacteria Assessment Network, NASA