Update: Advisory Remains in Effect for Flannagan Reservoir in Dickenson County Due to Algae Bloom

August 16, 2019

Media Contact: Robert Parker, public information officer, Western Region, 540-580-2960, robert.parker@vdh.virginia.gov

(RICHMOND, Va.) – The Virginia Department of Health’s August 9 health advisory for the lower (eastern) areas of John W. Flannagan Reservoir in Dickenson County due to a bloom of harmful algae remains in effect.

People and pets should continue to observe the swimming advisory which is in place for the lower portion of the reservoir, and avoid swimming, wading or bathing in the area under advisory until a second algae sample tests within the safe swimming threshold. This includes windsurfing and stand-up-paddle-boarding; any activities which pose a risk of skin contact or accidentally ingesting the water.

In areas where the swimming advisory is in place — the lower (eastern) part of the reservoir near the dam — samples taken last week showed algae concentrations were in the safe range, based on test results available this week. VDH requires two consecutive safe samples in order to lift a health advisory. Samples were collected again earlier this week; those results are expected next week.

Additional samples collected last week up-lake in the Pound and Cranesnest Rivers also were in the safe range for algae and toxins (microcystin and cylindrospermopsin).

The reservoir serves as the raw water source for the John Flannagan Water Authority, which provides public drinking water to Dickenson and Buchanan counties and parts of Wise and Tazewell counties, serving some 37,000 customers. Since the bloom was discovered, the Authority has adjusted the treatment protocol and increased monitoring. VDH has observed no evidence of impacts to drinking water at this time.

The 1,143-acre reservoir, formed by a dam on the Cranesnest and Pound Rivers, is a popular local recreation area for boating, swimming and fishing, with public access at five boat ramps, three campgrounds, two fishing piers and a marina.

Signs have been posted at the shoreline in affected areas. The signs read, in part: “WARNING: Harmful Algae Present. People and animals should avoid swimming and wading until further notice. Exposure to algal toxins may cause illness. … While fish consumption is not affected, thoroughly cleaning the fish, discarding the carcass and guts, and washing hands and surfaces afterward with soapy water is advised.”

The affected areas — below Lower Twin Branch to the dam, including Skeetrock Branch — are illustrated on an interactive map at www.SwimHealthyVA.com.

Some harmful algae, called cyanobacteria, can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Everyone should take the following steps to prevent illness:

  • Avoid contact with any area of the lake where water is green or an advisory sign is posted. WHEN IN
  • Do not allow people or pets to drink from natural bodies of water.
  • Keep people and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algae bloom. Wash off with plenty of fresh, clean water after coming into contact with algae scum or bloom water.
  • If you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom, seek medical/veterinarian care.
  • To ensure fish fillets are safe to eat, properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature.
  • If you suspect you experienced health-related effects following exposure to a bloom, contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 1-888-238-6154.
  • To learn more about harmful algae blooms or to report an algae bloom or fish kill visit SwimHealthyVA.com.

Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth. Most algae species are harmless; however, some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. Avoid discolored water or scums that are green or blueish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.

The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Old Dominion Phytoplankton Lab monitor water quality in the lake.

Generally, health advisories may be lifted after two consecutive test results showing acceptable levels for algae and toxins. Advisories also may be lifted or maintained at the discretion of the health department, if other information indicates the risk of exposure or adverse health effects are low.

For more information visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com or see the Advisory Report at www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/12/2019/08/Flanagan_8_15_19_draft_report.pdf.