Austin gets a warning system for dog-killing algae, but no signs of deadly blooms in Lady Bird Lake so far
Even on a sweltering summer afternoon, a few dozen people still made it out to Red Bud Isle on Lady Bird Lake Tuesday to escape their homes and walk their dogs. But the place—an idyllic 13-acre dog park hidden away in West Austin—has a dark chapter in its recent history.
Exactly one year ago, a dog died after swimming near a mat of what would later turn out to be a toxic algae bloom. Over the course of the next weeks, the neurotoxin-containing species killed several more dogs before the city banned pets from the water.
The ban lasted until November, when the tests run by the city finally showed that the algae bloom had dissipated.
Now, the city, with help from University of Texas molecular biosciences professor Schonna Manning, runs regular tests of water samples from all along the lake in hopes of catching the next bloom as soon as it becomes a problem.
Developing a warning system
By sheer luck, Manning had an existing contract in place with the city of Austin last summer to study algae in Lady Bird Lake, allowing them to draw a connection between the dogs' deaths and the algae bloom quickly.
The teams has created a swift warning system, with a 1-2 day turnaround, so that as soon as toxic algae appears, the city can begin putting up signs warning the public of dangerous areas and ban pets from the water, if necessary.
"We have kind of a gauged warning system from green to red, depending on the appearance of the lake, as well as what we've found both genetically and biochemically," Manning said.
For now, at least, Manning said her team has not noticed anything in Lady Bird Lake to cause alarm. But that can change in as little as a few days.
Visiting the lake
The first major samples of the summer were taken last week and are still being analyzed.
Jonie Mulder, a writer who lives in Tarrytown, brought her dog CJ out to Red Bud Isle Tuesday. She said it was one of the first times in more than a year that she had visited. When reports came out last year about dogs dying after swimming around Red Bud Isle, Mulder said she immediately stopped going, saying it wasn't worth the risk.
Now, however, Mulder said she just hopes her dog stays away from algae mats when she swims, but that there isn't any signage around the isle to warn of any potential danger.
"As soon as they said like it was killing dogs," Mulder said she stopped going. But Mulder said CJ is "squeamish as it is" and would have avoided sludge or large algae flats, anyway.
No signs of harmful algae yet this year
Stephanie Lott, a spokeswoman for the Austin Watershed Protection Department, which works with Manning on studying the algae, told Austonia that, "When we went out last week, we did not see any suspicious looking algae to send to the UT lab."
Regardless of definitive tests on the presence of toxic algae, Manning said the most important thing for anyone letting their dog swim in any body of water, not just Lady Bird Lake, is to trust their eyes and nose.
"If you look at the water and it looks kind of scuzzy, and there is stuff floating on top, that's definitely a warning that, possibly, it's not going to be a healthy place to go in," Manning said. "So trust your eyes and trust your nose. I mean, if it smells bad, if it looks bad, it's likely bad."
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Austin police have charged Kaitlin Marie Armstrong, a local cyclist, for the murder of Moriah "Mo" Wilson.
Wilson, a rising star in the gravel and mountain bike community, was found dead with gunshot wounds inside an East Austin home on the night of May 11 when she was in town for the weekend Gravel Locos race in Hico, Texas.
Police believe Wilson was having a relationship with a man Armstrong was also in a relationship with. The man, another gravel cyclist, Colin Strickland, has since issued a statement on the murder.
In his statement, he said he had a brief romantic relationship with Wilson in October 2021 before he resumed his relationship with Armstrong, but that he remained friends with Wilson. "There is no way to adequately express the regret and torture I feel about my proximity to this horrible crime. I am sorry, and I simply cannot make sense of this unfathomable tragedy.
NEW: Austin professional cyclist Colin Strickland has just released a statement about the murder of cyclist Moriah Wilson, clarifying his relationship with her and expressing “torture about my proximity to this horrible crime.” pic.twitter.com/KnIna3mWrE
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) May 20, 2022
Wilson, a 25-year-old Vermont native living in Colorado, had won a slew of races becoming a fan favorite. She had just become a full-time racer this year.
Anyone with information on this crime can contact Austin police at 512-974-TIPS or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 512-472-8477.
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Austin has added 24-hour security to the city-owned Pecan Gardens property, which will be converted into supportive housing for people exiting homelessness, after the former hotel was found with months of damage and vandalism May 5.
The building, which was broken into and stripped of copper and had people illegally sleeping inside of it, has been secured, Kelly said in a Friday press conference. Kelly said the city confirmed a measure to implement 24-hour security, including updates every 60 days until the property opens up as supportive housing.
"We cannot let this happen to any vacant city-owned property ever again," Kelly said. "This blatant act of disregard and criminal behavior will not be tolerated in our community."
The city bought the former hotel in August 2021 for $9.5 million with plans to renovate the property into a 78-unit supportive housing property. Those 55 or older that are experiencing chronic homelessness can qualify to live at the site once it is completed in late 2022-early 2023.
While the council was set to discuss a $4 million deal with Family Eldercare to begin converting the property Thursday, Kelly pulled the item for a later executive session due to security concerns. But the council did approve an item to authorize city leaders to begin negotiating other renovation contracts.
"I want to thank my colleagues for pumping the brakes on this contract and realizing that we owe the community not only an apology, but reassurance that the protection of the assets the city owns is vital to the success of achieving our intended goals," Kelly said.
When the building was found vandalized May 5, Kelly, who presides over the district containing the property, said damage included:
- Damage spanning all three floors of the building and is in nearly every room.
- The entire hotel was stripped of copper.
- Destroyed washers, dryers, air conditioners and electrical wiring.
- People sleeping at the hotel without permission.
On Tuesday, Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Gray apologized and said there was no security due to a delay in processing the request.
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