OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Federal officials ordered a swimming ban at Lake Texoma after tests revealed toxic blue-green algae, placing a damper on southern Oklahoma businesses gearing up for the Labor Day weekend on the state's second largest lake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the ban late Tuesday night, indicating the water at the lake along Oklahoma's southern border with Texas is considered unsafe for human contact.
"The warning is for the entire lake, which prohibits contact with the water," said Corps spokesman Ross Adkins. "The tests came back worse than we thought.
"There are several kinds of blue-green algae, and what they have out there is two to three feet below the surface of the lake, which makes it hard to spot."
Boating and fishing on the lake will still be allowed, but Adkins urged boaters to keep their speed low to minimize the chance of ingesting spray from lake water.
The ban came as tough news to those who make their living along the lake, like Karen Wootton, who owns and operates the Buncombe Creek Marina in Kingston.
"We're disappointed," Wootton said. "But you can still have fun. You just can't play in the water."
The ban is just the latest in a series that have been issued for lakes across the state. Advisories currently remain in effect for portions of Skiatook, Eufaula, Keystone, Waurika, Tenkiller, and Fort Gibson lakes.
The blue-green algae are actually bacteria that produce toxins harmful to humans and livestock. It flourishes in warm, stagnant, sunlit water, and this year's heat wave combined with Oklahoma's worst drought since the Dust Bowl have created ideal conditions for its growth.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health says it has received nearly 70 reports of people suffering symptoms connected to exposure to the algae, said epidemiologist Becky Coffman. She stressed there is no requirement that symptoms be reported to health officials, so the actual number is likely much higher.
Most of the cases involved reports of upper respiratory infections or gastrointestinal problems, with scattered cases of rashes or neurological problems like numbness or confusion, Coffman said.
The outbreaks, which began in late June, have had dire consequences for some businesses in Oklahoma, where tourism is the third largest industry with an estimated annual impact of $6.2 billion.