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Will Detroit Lake algae blooms wilt business?


First it was below-average water levels, and now toxic water warnings have some businesses and users of Detroit Lake worried the double-whammy could impact summer tourism.

The Oregon Health Authority issued a warning Friday that high toxin levels produced from blue-green algae have rendered Detroit Lake unsafe for swimming, drinking and inhaling water.

The agency also recommended that fishers discard all fat, skins and organs of fish caught in the lake before eating them.

Public Health Toxicologist Dr. David Farrer said one sample from the lake yielded toxin levels six times over the safe limit.

NewsChannel 21 spoke Monday with a couple fishermen at the lake who said they’re not concerned about toxins in the water, but rather the impact on recreation.

“I think it’s going to have a horrendous affect on the city of Detroit,” said Ray Kitterell of Salem.

KC’s Espresso and Deli owner Kathy Snyder said she hopes the algae problem won’t keep people away.

“The algae is kind of a non-issue, as far as I’m concerned,” Snyder said. “We grew up with it. We get it all the time.”

“The water level, that’s concerning,” she added. “I’m sure it’s going to impact our business some.”

Kitterall said he’s been fishing at Detroit Lake for several decades and has never seen the lake so low.

Blame a bad snow year — and that low water could be the very reason for the toxic algae bloom.

Farrer said the bacteria thrives in the warmer temperatures that are usually found in lower water. Mix that with Oregon’s unseasonably warm winter, and it could be the perfect recipe for the algae bloom.

It could last weeks, or even months.

Farrer said this particular strain of the algae is not typically found in Detroit Lake, let alone Oregon.

He said the last time OHA issued a warning for Detroit Lake was 2007. It lasted two weeks.

Although the toxins were only found in one arm of the lake, Farrer said the department has to issue a warning for the entire lake, as blooms can move.

Snyder hopes it will clear up before the summer tourism season hits.

As for the low water levels, there’s no changing that.

“We just hope people will still come up,” Snyder said. “It’s still a beautiful place. There’s still other things to do here.”

Swallowing or inhaling water droplets, as well as skin contact with water, should be avoided, the state agency said. Drinking water directly from Detroit Reservoir is especially dangerous.

Public health officials advised campers and other recreational visitors that toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering or treating the water with camping-style filters.

Exposure to toxins can produce symptoms of numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems and require immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should also receive medical attention if they persist or worsen.

Children and pets are at increased risk for exposure because of their size and level of activity. People who bring their pets fishing with them should take special precautions to keep them from drinking from or swimming in the reservoir.

The public will be advised when the algae levels have dropped and the health concerns no longer exist.

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