Willow Lake algae test results expected

Jackson County health officials hope to learn as early as today whether the end is in sight for a lingering public-health advisory against water contact at Willow Lake because of a potentially toxic blue-green algae bloom there.

Results of water samples taken Tuesday at the reservoir in eastern Jackson County were due today, the 100th day since people and pets were warned to steer clear of the lake water because of the cyanobacteria bloom.

"It's been a long time," Jackson County Parks Manager Steve Lambert said Thursday. "Everybody expected it would be a short-lived event. But it's gone on all summer."

The lake began exhibiting a day-glo green hue in April, leading to the earliest algae advisory ever issued in Oregon.

The lake color has since changed, leading to hopes that Tuesday's test will lead to a lifting of the advisory.

"It looked good, like every other lake in the state," Lambert said. "There's no visible scum, but I'm not going to guess on the results."

If the tests show algae levels are below state Department of Human Services standards, state health protocols call for the advisory to be lifted in two weeks if a visual inspection of the water body reveals no new algae bloom.

Toxins associated with the algae are released as the algae dies, and the two-week period allows time for any lingering toxins to dissipate naturally. That wait can be reduced to one week if a separate toxicity test on the sample shows no unhealthful toxin levels.

A lifting of the advisory will come too late for Dick Goodboe, whose Rogue Recreation Inc. is the concessionaire operating Willow Lake Resort.

Goodboe said the resort and campground revenues were down about $30,000 — about one-quarter of normal — this year, and he attributes it to the advisory signs and regular media attention of it.

"To me, it's overkill," Goodboe said Thursday.

"People are swimming. This past week, my granddaughter, daughter and my wife were swimming and in paddleboats just like 25 other people. No one's sick."

Goodboe said his county contract to operate the resort lapses this year, and he will not renew it.

"The county's getting it back," Goodboe said. "Nobody can put up with this."

Exposure to toxins can produce symptoms such as numbness, tingling and dizziness that can lead to difficulty breathing. Those who suffer symptoms of skin irritation, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, cramps and fainting should seek medical attention if they persist or worsen.

No confirmed illnesses from exposure to the algae have been reported in Oregon, but illnesses and deaths have occurred elsewhere in the world, according to the World Health Organization. A dog died last summer after it consumed algae-laced water along the Umpqua River near Elkton.

Health officials warn that people and animals should avoid swallowing or inhaling water droplets and skin contact with the water. They also warn people not to eat crayfish or freshwater shellfish taken from Willow Lake while the advisory is in effect.

However, boating and catch-and-release fishing are not restricted, and people can safely eat fish caught during the advisory if they first remove all fat, skin and organs.

Toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtering or treating the water with camping-style filters.

The lake's recreation area and campground receive water from a well that is not affected by the algae.

Identical advisories were in place Thursday at Diamond and Lemolo lakes in Douglas County, Willow Creek Reservoir in Morrow County, Fairview Lake in Multnomah County and Fish Lake in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Area in Douglas County.

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

Share This Story