July 2018

By Doug Helmke, P.G., Water Rights/Source Water Specialist 

n recent years, it has been common for the Kansas

Department of Health and Environment to issue

Public Health Watches and Warnings due to the

occurrences of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Since

2011, an annual average of 16 Kansas counties have had

a publically-accessible pond, lake or reservoir with a

bloom. These toxic blooms have the potential to impact

drinking water, so what is being done to prevent them?

Cyanobacteria are prokaryotic cells that produce oxygen

through photosynthesis. Animals and plants have eukaryotic

cells, cells with specialized parts surrounded by a membrane

which perform specific functions. Cyanobacteria, while capable

of photosynthesis, are more like bacteria than plants. Algae is

also not very plant-like, but do have the specialized cell parts and

do perform photosynthesis. The function of photosynthesis was

once thought to belong exclusively to plants, hence the early

classification of cyanobacteria as “blue-green algae” and the

continuation of labeling these blooms as “algal.” For more

information on the biology 

of algae and the water treatment options for cyanotoxins, 

see the November 2016 Kansas Lifelinearticle 

“Cyanotoxins Produced by Blue-Green Algae”




Cyanobacteria is found nearly everywhere. When an

abundance of nutrients is present in bodies of water, the rapid

population explosion of bacteria (and other algae too) can occur.

When conditions are right for cyanobacteria, they can visibly

change the appearance of the water. A scum can accumulate on

the surface, and the water can have a color not unlike traditional

antifreeze (green ethylene glycol). Cyanobacteria does not seem

to negatively affect fish or other aquatic life. However, the

bacteria and the toxins it releases can cause illness in humans

and their pets. Fortunately in Kansas, enough dilution during

and after reservoir releases has kept the amount of toxin below

regulatory levels at downstream water treatment facilities.

The problem with these cyanobacteria blooms, at the

present time, are the public health risks with direct contact,

and the negative perception of the water quality when

watches are declared. For the major reservoirs that provide

recreational opportunities, it’s likely that some of the people

that fish and enjoy watersports may travel to reservoirs where

watches aren’t declared. When a warning is declared, more


State Tries Ultrasound to

Control Cyanobacteria

When in Doubt, Stay Out!

Raw water from the Marais des Cygnes River is pumped into this

settling pond where the stilling and sunlit environment is

conducive to algae reproduction. While sediment settles,

ultrasound emitters operate to keep algae at minimal levels.

District management believes that these devices are helpful in the

District’s effort to produce high quality drinking water.

Owners of lakes and ponds will pos

t HAB Watch signs when

KDHE determines tha

t an algal bloom

 may be imminen