Swimmers be warned: Algae blooms prompt closure of multiple beaches ahead of holiday weekend

MADISON, Wis. — A recent stretch of rainfall and elevated temperatures may force some Madison-area residents to reconsider their holiday weekend plans.

As of Thursday, eight of the 22 public beaches and lake access points on Madison’s lakes were closed due to the presence of algae blooms and toxic bacteria that can be harmful to swimmers. The majority of the closed beaches are in the downtown Madison area.

While the closures may put a damper on some residents’ weekend plans, Jennifer Braun, a microbiologist with Public Health Madison & Dane County, said nine closures isn’t uncommon.

“With the recent rainfall we’ve had, that can lead to a lot of nutrients getting into the water that are food for the algae, and with the sun and warmth following that it’s just the right conditions for them to go,” Public Health Madison & Dane County Microbiologist Jennifer Braun said.

PHMDC workers get out to each beach to test the water at least once a week. If there are any issues, PHMDC returns daily, Monday through Friday, until the beaches are safe to reopen.

According to Braun, closing the beaches is in the interest of public health because the toxins found in the algae blooms, if ingested, can cause gastrointestinal issues. They can also cause skin, ear or eye irritation depending on where people come in contact with the water.

Braun said those issues can be worse — and sometimes fatal — for pets and animals because they’re smaller.

“They don’t necessarily know not to drink the water,” Braun said. “They get it on their fur. They can lick their fur ingesting more of it. So we just want to make sure to keep them out.”

Representatives with PHMDC said anyone who notices what appears to be blue-green algae in the water where there isn’t a closed sign can contact public health to let them know.

Despite the closures, Madison’s lakeside parks still have plenty to offer on a hot summer day.

“Just because the beach is closed it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the park. The park around the beach is still perfectly safe,” Braun said. “You can also still go in the water for other recreational activities, like kayaking. As long as there is not excessive spray of water getting into your face or mouth you should be be perfectly safe on the water to do those activities.”