Pinto Lake is a 120 acre recreational lake in Watsonville, CA. The lake develops massive algal blooms every later summer and fall and algal toxin levels typically exceed the State health criteria. As a result, the lake is classified as “impaired” and is closed for contact recreation during the bloom periods. Of particular interest, the death of 31 endangered southern sea otters have been traced to algal toxins which have accumulated in shellfish eaten by the otters. Pinto Lake is the likely source of the toxins in the shellfish and the cause of the otter deaths. Excessive amounts of the nutrient phosphorus is the main cause of the toxic algal blooms. Internal phosphorus loading (leaching from the lakebed sediments) and watershed runoff both contribute phosphorus to Pinto, but a study in 2011 showed that the majority (85%) was coming from the lakebed.
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