Memorial Park Set to Host Labor Day Liftoff Despite Prospect Lake Closure

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The Labor Day Lift Off is this weekend!

One of the most fun Labor Day traditions in Colorado Springs is the Labor Day Liftoff in Memorial Park. The park’s incredible views of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain and Prospect Lake combine to provide the perfect backdrop for this annual event, and this year is no exception.

However, an important reminder to attendees that Prospect Lake is closed to water contact due to a blue-green algae bloom that is producing a toxin that is harmful to humans and pets. The toxin is called microcystin toxin and it is currently affecting many lakes and ponds nationwide. 

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria common in lakes throughout Colorado. When conditions are right, blue-green algae multiplies quickly. Those conditions include sustained hot weather, stagnant water, and excessive rain fall.

These conditions result in too much nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in the water. This causes the harmful bacteria to grow faster than the ecosystem can handle. The increased bacteria harm water quality, decrease the amount of oxygen available to animals living in the water, and can produce a toxin that is harmful to humans and pets. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment(CDPHE) offers additional information on their website.

How long has Prospect Lake been affected and what is the City doing about it?

 Prospect Lake was first tested for microcystin on Aug. 7 by Colorado Springs Utilities after an unusually high amount of dead fish were found on the shoreline. While that test was negative, a test by CDPHE on August 8 returned microcystin levels of 29.7 mcg/L, which is well above the regulatory limit of 4 mcg/L. 

Since testing positive, Prospect Lake has been closed to the following activities: swimming, bathing, paddle boarding, non-motorized boating of any kind, water activities like tubing and water skiing. Pets are not allowed in the water and should not drink the water.

Blue-green algae are self-limiting, naturally-occurring bacteria, which means it will eventually phase itself out of the lake.

The Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department is working with CDPHE to conduct weekly testing of Prospect Lake. The lake will remain closed until recreationally safe water quality levels are reached. More than 70 signs are posted around the lake warning visitors of the closure. 

Has other water in Colorado Springs been affected by blue-green algae?

The Parks Department has inspected and tested its other bodies of water, and Prospect Lake remains its only affected body of water at this time. El Paso County and Colorado Springs Utilities have also tested their owned bodies of water. At this time, Homestead Ranch Pond and Pikeview Reservoir have also returned positive results for microcystin and are closed. 

Although these are the only public bodies of water that have tested positive in El Paso County, if you’re planning to recreate in a body of water in Colorado, be aware that conditions are prime throughout the state for blue-green algae to thrive, and it can produce quickly. Blue-green algae can be life-threatening to humans and pets.

Frequently Asked Questions about Algae

The following information has been adapted from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Select a question to see the answer.

What should a person watch for?

People and their pets should avoid ingesting or swimming in water with heavy accumulations of algae.

Are some lakes more susceptible to algae than others? 

Most algae is harmless and an important part of the aquatic food chain. Lakes with high nutrients are more susceptible to blue-green algae, which is the specific type of algae that is capable of producing toxins.

What conditions cause high algae levels?

High nutrient levels (nitrogen and phosphorus in particular) are the biggest factor. Warm temperatures, and calm conditions also contribute. 

What can you do? 

Don’t feed the algae: Nitrogen and phosphorus in excess grow scummy algae in a lake. The public can help with water quality of our lakes, reservoirs and streams by using phosphorus free fertilizers and picking up after their dog.

How do they test for it?

The City goes through several steps when an algae bloom occurs. We identify the species to determine if is a blue-green algae, and if that species is capable of producing toxins. If it is potentially toxic, we use strip tests that can tell if toxins are present. The strips take about one hour to run. If the strip is positive, we work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for further lab testing. At Prospect Lake, we are now testing weekly with CDPHE to monitor the algae’s regression. Those results are posted on our Memorial Park webpage.

Is there a safe level for algae?

Most algae is safe and cannot produce toxins. It is an integral part of the aquatic food chain.

Who is in charge of the inspections?

Each lake owner is responsible for their own lake. The City monitors blooms in our owned bodies of water, and in partnership with CDPHE. 

Does it take a death or reported illness to prompt an inspection?

No, the presence of an algae bloom at a City-owned body of water prompts further investigation.