Corps wages battle against algae at Lost Creek Lake

TRAIL — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes an apparent clearing of a blue-green algae bloom Friday at Lost Creek Lake will lead to the lifting of a public health advisory before the busy Fourth of July weekend.

Tests next week on water samples collected Friday could entice state health officials to fast-track the lifting of their volunteer advisory against water contact at Southern Oregon's most popular reservoir before the lake's most popular holiday weekend.

"We realize there's an economic impact when you have a health advisory," said Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin project manager. "We're in the recreation business. That's part of our mission.

"We want to try to preserve the recreational benefit and the economic benefit during a major holiday weekend," Buck said.

Normally, the state Department of Human Services does not lift such advisories until two weeks after tests show levels of anabaena flos-aque below thresholds deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

But state protocols also call for lifting the advisory if anabaena flos-aque tests fall beneath the threshold and other tests also show safe levels of two algae-related toxins that can sicken people or pets if inhaled or ingested.

Buck said the Corps ordered the extra tests, which cost about $400, on Friday in hopes that the results would come back positive and be presented to state health officials by June 29 or 30.

"At least it will be a couple days before the Fourth when we'll have everything in place," Buck said.

The effort came as good news Friday to area businesses that cater to swimmers, waterskiers and anglers who flock to Lost Creek, which consistently ranks in the top 10 among Oregon's busiest summer lakes.

"We need the whole season here but the Fourth of July, of course, is one of our biggest weekends," said Doni Swearingen, who manages the Lost Creek Marina at Stewart State Park, whose campgrounds always fill that holiday.

"I'm going to think positive and assume it's going to be gone," Swearingen said.

Health officials Monday issued their public-health advisory after water sampled last week at the state park's swim area showed levels of anabaena flos-aque as high as 16 times the threshold considered safe for contact.

When it dies, the algae — which actually is a bacteria — releases neurotoxins that can cause symptoms ranging from a skin rash and dizziness to rapid death, though documented reactions have been extremely rare in Oregon.

Swallowing or inhaling water droplets should be avoided, as well as skin contact with water by humans or animals. The toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering or treating water.

It is most threatening to children and pets, and it congregates mostly in shallow, stagnant coves and along shorelines.

The advisory includes a recommendation that anglers practice catch-and-release fishing until the advisory is lifted. If people choose to eat fish from the reservoir, they should remove all fat, skin and organs before cooking because toxins are more likely to collect in these tissues, the advisory states.

It is the fourth consecutive year a bloom has hit Lost Creek Lake, and last fall's bloom lasted four months.

But the algae seemed to dissipate noticeably Thursday and Friday, leading to Friday's sampling, Buck said.

"If they can get it tested and cleared before the Fourth of July, then we definitely would support it," said Jackson Baures, who manages Jackson County's environmental health program.

Swearingen said the advisory was posted at her marina door Friday as customers continued to rent boats, waterski and fish with no apparent worry.

"I'm ignoring it," Swearingen said. "I swim in it and I eat the fish. My kids do, too, and we're fine."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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