Toxic algae in lake forces hundreds in Thurston County to find new drinking water

SUMMIT LAKE, Wash. – Thurston County health officials have warned approximately 470 households in and around Summit Lake to not drink water from the tap.

Toxic algae is the culprit and health officials warn ingesting it could be deadly.

Health officials said the problem could repeat across Western Washington as warmer weather comes our way.

“I’ve got some canning supplies but we won’t be doing that here,” said Summit Lake resident Shelly Snell.

On Friday, Snell began hauling in bottled water because of the restriction.

“I have a little bit of concern, but things happen,” she said.

But it’s not just Snell -- hundreds of her neighbors also get drinking water from Summit Lake.

“It’s a unique community in that most everybody out there uses the lake as their drinking water source,” said Art Starry, with Thurston County Public Health.

Warning signs have been posted around the community, reminding everyone to stay out of the water.

The issue in Summit Lake is not an isolated one, according to Starry. Many other freshwater lakes across Western Washington could also see algae blooms turn toxic as the march into summer continues.

Drinking water with Anatoxin-a, the same found in Summit Lake, could be dangerous.

“Tingling in your hands and toes,” Starry said ,describing some of the toxin’s effects. “In severe situations, it can be convulsions, it can be paralysis which can lead to death.”

Starting Thursday, the health department began trucking in fresh water for neighbors. It’s available from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at a local fire station. Drinking, cooking, bathing, or even doing laundry for now, is off-limits for this community.

Snell said her biggest challenge was keeping her dog out of the lake.

“He loves to play in it and it’s his form of exercise because of his knees,” she said. “Of course he’s a lab and he drinks a lot of it and he stays wet.”

County health officials are also planning an emergency meeting to share information about the situation. It’s scheduled for Saturday starting at 2 p.m. at the Boy Scout Camp along the lake.

Officials plan to continue monitoring water quality but the restrictions could last into next week.