VDH Expands Harmful Algae Bloom Advisory for North Fork of the Shenandoah River from Deer Rapids to Riverton – Public Advised to Avoid Water Contact within Locations of the River in Shenandoah and Warren Counties

(Strasburg, Va.) – The North Fork of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah and Warren Counties is experiencing a harmful algae bloom (HAB).  To ensure the safety of people, pets, and livestock, the Virginia Department of Health is expanding its advisory to include the river from Deer Rapids Boat Ramp to Riverton Boat Ramp (approximately 52.5 miles).  Please avoid contact with toxic algal mats (slimy or scummy materials) that have been found in several areas of the river.  This material may be attached to the river bottom, floating on the water or on the surface, or present along shorelines.

The areas of the river under the advisory are shown in the “North Fork of Shenandoah River Status Report (8/10/21)” and on the interactive Virginia HAB Map.  The Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force (Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Old Dominion Phytoplankton lab) will continue to monitor the bloom and issue advisories as necessary to protect health.

North Fork Shenandoah River Recreation Water Advisory Areas (~52.5 miles in total length)

  • (NEW) Deer Rapids Boat Ramp to Lower River Road (32.45 miles)
  • From Lower River Road to Bethel Road (2.85 miles)
  • Bethel Road to Strasburg, VA near S. Holliday Street (Rt.  648) (5.40 miles)
  • (NEW) Strasburg to Riverton Boat Ramp near Fort Royal, VA (11.68 miles)

The North Fork of the Shenandoah River is a popular local recreation area for boating, swimming and fishing.  Advisory signs will be posted along the shoreline at public access points within the advisory areas in English and Spanish.  Please observe and obey advisory signs in these posted areas.  People are advised to avoid swimming, wading, and stand-up-paddle-boarding as well as other activities that pose a risk of coming in contact with toxic algal mat material.  Boating such as canoeing, flatwater kayaking and other forms of activity, where potential for contact with toxic algal mats is low,  may continue with caution.

Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth.  Most algae species are harmless, however, some may produce irritating compounds or toxins.  Because it is difficult to tell the difference, VDH advises everyone to avoid discolored water, scums or mat material that are green or bluish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins, especially in areas with advisories.  Please note that mats growing along the river bottom may detach and float with river flow and may accumulate along down-stream shorelines.

Harmful algae can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Some toxins in algae blooms can be fatal to dogs and other animals when ingested.  If you or your animals experience any negative health effects after swimming in or near an algal bloom, seek medical or veterinary care promptly.

 To prevent illness:

  • Avoid contact with any area of the river where algae or algal mats are present or an advisory sign is posted, WHEN IN DOUBT, KEEP PEOPLE AND PETS OUT!
  • Do not ingest any algal mat material or swallow water that may contain algal mat material.
  • Do not let children play with or handle algal mat material.
  • Do not let dogs in water with algal mat materials. Rinse off any material on a dog’s fur with clean water and ensure they do not lick off any algal mat material.  Cyanotoxins, including those identified at this location, can be fatal to dogs and other animals, with dog deaths possibly occurring suddenly following exposure.
  • Humans should never consume water or material from a natural waterbody because this water is not treated water and is not suitable for consumption.
  • If you have concerns about human, pet or livestock algal intoxication, contact the Virginia Poison Control at 800-222-1222 or https://poison.vcu.edu/.
  • To ensure fish fillets are safe to eat, properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, rinse filets with clean tap or bottled water, and cook fish to the proper temperature.
  • To report an algae bloom or fish kill, use the online HAB report form: vdh.virginia.gov/waterborne-hazards-control/algal-bloom-surveillance-map/
  • If you suspect you or your animal experienced health-related effects following contact with a bloom, contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 888-238-6154.

The North Fork of the Shenandoah River serves as the drinking water source for the Town of Strasburg, Town of Woodstock, and City of Winchester.  All three localities are taking every precaution to prevent impacts to drinking water, including routine testing for cyanotoxins and optimization of treatment processes for cyanotoxin removal.  At this time, there are no restrictions on drinking water use.  The localities and VDH will closely monitor drinking water for the duration of the HAB.

For more information about harmful algae blooms visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.