Lost Creek Lake opening awaits state review of tests

Lost Creek Lake's spring bloom of toxic blue-green algae apparently is over. The public-health advisory against contact with the lake, however, is not.

The lake northeast of Shady Cove cleared its last water-quality hurdle Friday when tests showed extremely low levels of anabaena flos-aquae, the strain of blue-green algae that health officials say can be harmful to people or pets who come into contact with it.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Human Services on Friday received notice of the test from the private lab contracted for the work, said Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin project manager.

But a separate report on a toxin associated with the algae was not completed and forwarded Friday to DHS officials, who must review the data before lifting the voluntary closure.

"It's one of the steps to make sure the coast is clear," Buck said late Friday. "I suspect we'll get it Monday.

"Until we get it, the health advisory will stay on," he said.

Laura Boswell, coordinator of the state's Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance program, said results from the algae tests and two toxin tests must be viewed and discussed among the Corps, her office and Jackson County environmental health officials before the advisory can be lifted.

By late Friday, only two of those reports had reached her desk in Salem.

"It's a public-health concern and we'd like to validate the information before we act," Boswell said. "It's better to be cautious than to act too quickly."

Boswell said that, if all three reports are reviewed positively Monday and Corps officials sees no new algae bloom, Lost Creek Lake could get its clean bill of health that day.

News that water tests show that Jackson County's most popular lake is free of algae toxins and primed to welcome back swimmers, anglers and water-skiers before the upcoming Fourth of July weekend drew sighs of relief from area business operators who cater to that crowd.

"That's better than getting it lifted after the Fourth of July," said Doni Swearingen, who manages the Lost Creek Lake Marina at Stewart State Park, the hub of the reservoir's activities.

"I'm not surprised," Swearingen said. "We haven't seen any (algae) since last Friday."

The voluntary advisory has been in place since June 15 after tests of water at the Stewart State Park swim area showed algae levels 16 times higher than unhealthy thresholds.

Toxins released by the dying algae can be harmful to humans and pets if ingested or inhaled, triggering the advisory against water contact and eating of the lake's fish until the bloom and resulting toxins are gone.

Tests of water sampled June 19 showed nondetectable levels of the toxins and 503 cells of algae per milliliter of water.

The public-health advisory kicks in when algae levels exceed 100,000 cells per milliliter.

Other tests showed either non-detectable or extremely low levels of two toxins associated with the algae, Buck said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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