Smith Mountain Lake algal bloom advisory: Avoid swimming, windsurfing, paddleboarding

Smith Mountain Lake algal bloom advisory: Avoid swimming, windsurfing, paddleboarding

algae bloom in lake
(© Alexey Stiop –

The public is being warned to avoid contact with water in certain areas of Smith Mountain Lake due to a harmful algal bloom.

Samples collected from the Blackwater River arm of Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania Counties showed unacceptable levels of algal concentrations, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

People and pets are advised to avoid swimming, windsurfing and stand-up-paddle-boarding, as well as other activities that pose a risk of ingesting water in this area. Activities such as boating may continue with proper precaution in the advisory area.

The blooms have produced blue/green discoloration and algal scums that should be avoided. Some harmful algae, called cyanobacteria, can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Sample results from collections on June 1 indicated a swimming advisory is necessary due to unsafe levels of cyanobacteria, which have the potential to produce multiple toxins. Toxin results at these sites are pending but will not change the advisory.

Algal blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algal growth. Most algal species are harmless. However, some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins.

The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the VDH, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Old Dominion University Phytoplankton Laboratory, will continue to monitor water quality in the lake.

In general, advisories will be lifted following two consecutive test results (a minimum of 10 days apart) with acceptable levels for algal cell counts and/or toxin concentration.

An advisory may be lifted or maintained at the discretion of the health department.

Blackwater River arm of Smith Mountain Lake sample areas

  • Unnamed Creek cove; Blackwater River at Kemp Ford Road
  • Blackwater River cove at Virginia Key Trail
  • Blackwater River cove near Anthony Ford Landing

Tips for preventing illness

  • Avoid contact with any area of the lake where scums are present or water is green or blue-green or an advisory sign is posted
  • Not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water
  • Keep children and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algal bloom and quickly wash them off with plenty of fresh, clean water after contact with algal scum or bloom water
  • Seek medical/veterinarian care if you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom
  • Properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs
  • Cook fish to the proper temperature to ensure fish fillets are safe to eat.


Related story

Be on the lookout for harmful algae blooms in natural water this summer

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.