Toxin producing cyanobacterial blooms have increased globally in recent decades in both frequency and intensity. Despite the recognition of this growing risk, the extent and magnitude of cyanobacterial blooms and cyanotoxin prevalence is poorly characterized in the heavily populated region of southern California. Recent assessments of lentic waterbodies (depressional wetlands, lakes, reservoirs and coastal lagoons) determined the prevalence of microcystins and, in some cases, additional cyanotoxins. Microcystins were present in all waterbody types surveyed although toxin concentrations were generally low across most habitats, as only a small number of sites exceeded California’s recreational health thresholds for acute toxicity. Results from passive samplers (Solid Phase Adsorption Toxin Tracking (SPATT)) indicated microcystins were prevalent throughout lentic waterbodies and that traditional discrete samples underestimated the presence of microcystins. Multiple cyanotoxins were detected simultaneously in some systems, indicating multiple stressors, the risk of which is uncertain since health thresholds are based on exposures to single toxins. Anatoxin-a was detected for the first time from lakes in southern California. The persistence of detectable microcystins across years and seasons indicates a low-level, chronic risk through both direct and indirect exposure. The influence of toxic cyanobacterial blooms is a more complex stressor than presently recognized and should be included in water quality monitoring programs.
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