- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will no longer issue advisories against swimming or otherwise using the water during blue-green algae blooms in the 11 Oregon reservoirs it manages.

The corps also says it won’t test the reservoirs to see if levels of cyanobacteria exceed state health standards.

The public relies too much on advisories to decide whether lakes are safe, corps officials told the Medford Mail Tribune (https://bit.ly/1FtI7ky).

One problem, they said, is that blue-green algae levels vary from place to place, so a positive test in one cove of a lake may not reflect risks in another.

“It’s this idea that, if there’s no advisory, the coast is clear,” said Jim Buck, the corps’ Rogue Basin operations manager. “That’s not a good place to be. I’m not comfortable with that.”

Instead, the corps plans to focus on educating people who use the lakes about how to spot unhealthful water.

Exposure to the toxins can produce numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems that require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting also should receive medical attention if they persist or worsen.

During advisories, people are warned to avoid water contact and to keep their pets from the water, but compliance is voluntary. Anglers are encouraged to practice catch-and-release fishing.

Children and pets are at increased risk for exposure.

Despite the regular testing, no one has been confirmed to have become sick from blue-green algae contact at any water body in Oregon, but four confirmed dog deaths have been attributed to algae toxins in the Umpqua and South Umpqua rivers.

Among the lakes affected by the change is on in Jackson County, Lost Creek Lake, where algae blooms have been a fall and winter bane, sometime lasting months. The longest was 134 days in 2008-09.

The corps has placed posters at several access points around the lake showing what potentially unhealthful water looks like so visitors can judge for themselves whether to enter whatever portion of the lake they wish to use.

“It’s up-front, apparent and perpetual and can reach visitors in a more timely and meaningful manner,” said Amy Echols, a corps spokeswoman. “It better focuses our resources on education and providing the best possible information for risk-based decisions.”

Other corps reservoirs that fall under the new program in Oregon are Dexter, Dorena, Fall Creek, Fern Ridge, Lookout Point, Hills Creek, Detroit, Cougar and Blue River reservoirs in the Willamette River Basin, as well as Willow Creek Reservoir in Eastern Oregon.

There is no public-health requirement that the Corps or any water-management agency test for potentially toxic algae blooms.

“We always recommend they sample, but it’s up to them to decide when and where they do it,” said Rebecca Hillwig of the Oregon Health Authority. “If their policy changes, we have to live with it.”

Hillwig said she hopes people will inspect the water at places like Lost Creek Lake before recreating there.

“It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out,” Hillwig said. “We don’t know and, obviously, neither does the corps. This summer will be a learning experience.”

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Information from: Mail Tribune, https://www.mailtribune.com/

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