State loses grant for watching toxic algae

The Oregon Health Authority will be paying less attention to toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes after a federal grant expired.

The agency will continue to issue warnings that tell Oregonians to stay out of some lakes, but it will have fewer resources to keep track of water samples and do public education, said environmental toxicologist David Farrer.

There will also be fewer public outreach efforts and less money for materials.

The funding amounted to about $150,000 a year, which covered two employees, travel and materials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said grants went to nine states for five years to help build public awareness on harmful algae blooms.

The focus of the grants was to gather data for a project to monitor illness from harmful blooms, spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said.

Experts say harmful algae blooms have been increasing worldwide, driven by warmer temperatures and more frequent rainstorms related to global warming. The rainstorms wash nutrients such as nitrogen into the waterways. The nitrogen comes from excess fertilizer on farmland, leaky septic systems around waterways, water treatment plants, livestock feed lots, and even smog.

While the grant was in force, Oregon posted 14 toxic algae warnings in 2008, 20 in 2009, 21 in 2010, 18 in 2011, nine in 2012 and nine so far this year. The warnings tend to peak in late summer, when temperatures and hours of sunlight are high, Farrer said.

Increased public awareness may account for the initial increase in warnings, but it's not clear why the number fell in recent years.

— Jeff Barnard, Associated Press

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