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RIDOH and DEM Recommend Avoiding Contact with Lawton Valley Reservoir in Portsmouth

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) advise people to avoid contact with Lawton Valley Reservoir in Portsmouth due to a blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond. Blue-green algae causes toxins that can harm humans and animals. Newport's public drinking water supply is not at risk.

Recreational activities (like swimming, boating, and fishing) are never allowed in Lawton Valley Reservoir, which supplies drinking water. This advisory emphasizes that people should avoid contact with the reservoir and not eat fish from the reservoir. Pets can also be affected by exposure to the algal toxins. For this reason, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water.

Irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and or throat are common side effects that result from skin contact with water containing algal toxins. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are more at-risk to algal toxins than adults, since they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in or otherwise in contact with Lawton Valley Reservoir in Portsmouth and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare provider. The public is reminded that health advisories issued earlier in the year for St. Mary's and Sisson Ponds remain in effect, and all precautions are applicable to these ponds as well.

If you come into contact with the water, rinse your skin with clean water as soon as possible, and when you get home, take a shower and wash your clothes. Similarly, if your pet comes in contact with the water, immediately wash your pet off with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if your animal shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a day or so after being in contact with water. People are cautioned that toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

Lawton Valley Reservoir is a drinking water source maintained by Newport Water. Newport Water's primary goal is to provide safe drinking water for all of its customers. As the main drinking water supplier for the residents of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth, Newport Water serves nearly 70,000 people. Even when a cyanobacteria bloom is present in a drinking water source, the treated water that Newport Water distributes to homes is safe. Treatment removes harmful bacteria, including cyanobacteria, before the water is delivered to customers. Newport Water follows all state and federal drinking water testing and monitoring requirements to assure that treatment processes are working correctly and the treated water is safe to drink. Drinking untreated water from any pond at any time is not recommended.

Water that is treated to become drinking water comes from nine different surface reservoirs or ponds: St. Mary's Pond, Sisson Pond, Lawton Valley Reservoir, Watson Reservoir, South and North Easton Ponds, Gardiner Pond, and Paradise Pond located on Aquidneck Island, Nonquit Pond in Tiverton, and Watson Reservoir in Little Compton - all owned and maintained by Newport Water. While RIDOH and RIDEM are now issuing a public health advisory for Lawton Valley Reservoir, Newport Water's other water supply ponds also routinely experience blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms. Most algae blooms occur in the summer and fall, but they can occur at any time of year.

Newport Water needs all residents and visitors on Aquidneck Island and in Tiverton and Little Compton to help protect these valuable drinking water supplies. State law prohibits both people and animals from swimming and bathing in ponds that are drinking water sources. In addition, Newport Water prohibits fishing, swimming, and boating in these reservoirs, as posted.

Cyanobacteria blooms also occur in other waterbodies in the State. The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov.

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