SACRAMENTO – A statewide program to coordinate actions for the protection of public health and water quality from toxins produced by harmful algal blooms (HABs) is underway, with the signing of Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s (D-Hayward) AB 834.
Cyanobacteria are essential components of many freshwater ecosystems and form the foundation of most aquatic food chains. However, certain types of these bacteria produce toxins-including liver and neurotoxins-that sicken humans and wildlife. “HABs historically occur in the summer months, but due to climate change, they have recently been flourishing year-round,” explained Assemblymember Quirk who has been studying climate change for over three decades.
“These toxic blooms afflict every region of the State, and are a recurring national headline across the United States. In Alameda County alone, at least four water bodies are currently impaired. I’ve gotten reports of individuals getting sick and pets dying after coming in contact with these contaminated waters. It’s a serious health issue” said Assemblymember Quirk.
The Karuk Tribe has been monitoring HABs in the Klamath River for over a decade, and recognizes the need for better monitoring of HABs. "The toxic algae blooms that originate behind PacifiCorp’s Klamath dams affect the health of everyone that fishes and swims in the Klamath River. We applaud the efforts of Assemblymember Quirk to address the health threats posed by toxic algal blooms through better monitoring and public notification. In this way, we will be better able to hold polluters accountable while keeping the community safe," said Russell “Buster” Attebery, Chairman of the Karuk Tribe.
The State Water Board has taken a lead role in the State’s HAB response by setting up a volunteer-run interagency working group. In 2018, 44 reports of potential HAB-related illnesses, including 11 dog illnesses, were received by the HAB working group. As recently as September 2019, a HAB-related dog death is under investigation after HABs were confirmed at Folsom Lake near Sacramento.
AB 834 furthers the efforts of the working group by enabling more research and data collection to understand why the number of HABs is increasing, whether their toxins are entering drinking water, and how the impacts and growth of HABs can best be mitigated.
“As Chair of the Assembly Committee of Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, I believe it is critical that we protect our waters from the toxins released by HABs. These harmful blooms not only threaten the health and safety of people, pets and wildlife, they also threaten the livelihood of tribes like the Karuk Tribe,” said Assemblymember Quirk upon learning his bill was signed.
AB 834 goes into effect on January 1, 2020.