As Oklahomans gear up for Memorial Day, Governor Mary Fallin says the state's lakes are great places to enjoy the holiday weekend. Like thousands of other Oklahomans, Governor Fallin and her family plan to enjoy time at the lake this weekend.
"Going to the lake for the Memorial Day holiday is a tradition for many Oklahomans. Picnics, watermelon, homemade ice cream and fun in the sun all mark the beginning of summer," Fallin said. "I want to encourage Oklahomans to have fun and enjoy themselves at state parks and lakes but remember to be safe and observe the proper rules and guidelines for boating and lake safety."
Last year, Oklahoma's summer season at the lakes was marred by outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae. In response, the governor signed into law today (Thursday, May 24) Senate Bill 259, which establishes a state policy for response to toxic blue-green algae concentrations in recreational bodies of water. The law goes into effect immediately.
"Senate Bill 259 establishes an effective response plan that will keep Oklahomans updated on the conditions of our state's lakes. This will help families better plan their summer activities and continue to enjoy all the recreational activities state lakes offer," Fallin said.
The legislation focuses on creating a public education campaign to inform citizens about the dangers of toxic blue-green algae. Starting this weekend, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation will distribute printed materials to state park users and lake managers will begin placing informational signs at major lake access points.
Additionally, SB 259 requires the Tourism Department to develop and maintain a Web site that allows the public to check water quality at state lakes. The bill also directs the state Department of Health to educate health care providers on the effects and symptoms of exposure to toxic blue-green algae; utilizes the World Health Organization guidelines for moderate probability of adverse health effects; and sets the threshold for issuing an advisory at 100,000 cells per milliliter for cell count and 20 micrograms per liter for microcystin toxin levels.
SB 259 author Senator Josh Brecheen said this legislation will keep the public informed of potential outbreaks.
"Scientists have informed us that the incidence of toxic blue-green algae outbreaks is expected to increase in the coming years. That said, even when there is an outbreak in a lake, it isn't present in every part of the lake," Brecheen said. "Through education, lake goers will be able to identify blue-green algae and avoid contact with it. It's not difficult to spot. Blooms typically float to the surface and are inches thick, especially near the shoreline."
Representative Doug Cox, House sponsor of SB 259 and a physician who resides at Grand Lake, said the legislation will help protect the health of Oklahomans who visit state lakes.
"SB 259 protects public health through education. Avoiding contact with blue-green algae is just one part of water safety," Cox said. "No one in this country has ever died from exposure to blue-green algae, but in 2011 alone, Oklahoma had 47 fatalities from drowning. Many of them were the result of excessive alcohol consumption. All lake guests should take water safety seriously by: wearing a life jacket when boating or swimming; drinking responsibly and avoiding contact with blue-green algae."
Governor Fallin echoed the concerns about lake safety.
"The health and safety of Oklahomans and our out-of-state guests is a top priority," Fallin said. "The intent of SB 259 is to help our citizens educate themselves and make responsible choices. When it comes to being safe at the lake, remember these simple instructions: life jackets float -- you don't; if it's GREEN on top, STOP (it's probably a toxic blue-green algae bloom); and stay sober, or pull over."