Holiday Water Recreation Tips Issued from Public Health, Division of Water

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 21, 2018) – With summer upon us and July 4th quickly approaching, the Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) and the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) offer these safety tips to help Kentuckians enjoy the many rivers, lakes and creeks in which we boat, fish, swim, canoe or otherwise enjoy our abundant water resources.

Despite many water quality improvements, there is the potential for human health risks in any body of water. By using common sense, your risks of experiencing water-derived health issues can be greatly decreased.

DOW and DPH recommend avoiding areas with Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Blue-green algae occur naturally in the environment and are a vital part of the ecosystem. HABs arise when there are excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), sunny conditions, warm temperatures and low-flow or low-water conditions.

The more typical green algae, which do not produce toxins, come in many forms and may appear as underwater moss or stringy mats. Blue-green algae, on the other hand, appear as slicks of opaque, bright-green paint, but closer inspection often reveals the grainy, sawdust-like appearance of individual colonies or bacteria. The color of the algae may also appear red or brown.

Lake Reba HAB
A Hab in Lake Reba, 2016.

If you are concerned that you have symptoms that are a result of exposure to HABs, please see your doctor and call your local health department.

DOW and DPH recommend that the public follow these guidelines to avoid exposure to HABS:

  1. Avoid ingesting or inhaling the water.
  2. Thoroughly clean hands and other areas of skin that have come in contact with the water.
  3. Don’t allow open wounds to have direct contact with the water.
  4. Avoid areas where swimming or harmful algal bloom (HAB) advisories have been issued.
  5. Avoid water with obvious odors or surface scums.
  6. Avoid getting in water after a heavy rainfall, especially in dense residential, urban and agricultural areas.
  7. Avoid areas below wastewater treatment facility outfalls, animal feedlots, straight pipes or other obvious sources of pollution.
  8. Restrict pets and livestock from drinking the water if a bright green or blue-green surface scum is present.
  9. Avoid direct contact with HAB-infested water, including swimming, wading, fishing, paddling, diving and water skiing, which may result in symptoms.
  10. People who are prone to respiratory allergies or asthma should avoid areas with HABs. Children may be particularly sensitive.
  11. If contact has been made with water containing blue-green algae, wash off with fresh water. In some cases, skin irritation will appear after prolonged exposure. If symptoms persist, consult your local health care provider.
  12. Fish fillets (not organs) may be consumed after the fillets have been rinsed in clean, non-lake water. It is advisable to wash any parts of your body that have come into contact with the fish.
  13. More information concerning the quality of Kentucky’s water resources such as advisories or impairments can be found on the Kentucky Water Health Portal

For more information on healthy swimming in all water bodies, visit