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Nobody likes to see scum in their livestock drinking water. But if it’s blue-green algae it can be deadly. When blue-green algae blooms, it creates a toxin that can affect the liver or nervous system in animals that drink the water. It’s troublesome in ponds, stock tanks, and other still bodies of water.
Steve Ensley is a veterinary toxicologist at Kansas State University. He says technically it’s not algae, but a bacterium called cyanobacteria that thrives on abundant nutrients in the water such as phosphorous and nitrogen. It looks like blue, green, or even orange paint spilled in the water.
"The bloom likes to grow a couple inches below the surface down to a couple feet below the surface. And so, when you look at the water, it doesn’t look like moss or duckweed or vegetation, it looks like there’s something in the water that’s not right," says Ensley.
There's not much you can do other than let it run its course. It takes about two weeks from bloom till the toxin is gone.
In the meantime, Ensley recommends keeping animals away from the water until it’s confirmed safe. If there is no other water source you can use, fence off the part of the pond that poses the most risk.
"One thing that can happen is the wind will concentrate the bacteria and the toxins on the downwind side of the surface water," he says. "So, if you can’t get them off of there, if there’s any way you can fence that off or keep them away from that end of the pond, that’s also helpful."
Blue-green algae thrives in temperatures at 75-degrees or higher, so there is a risk until the weather cools off.