Nearly 40 percent of the 41 water systems in Oregon said to be “at-risk” are in Douglas County.

Douglas County’s main waterways are on a preliminary list created by the Oregon Health Authority that highlights toxic algae-prone water systems within the state.

Nearly 40 percent of the 41 water systems listed by the state agency are in the county.

The initial list was made in response to toxic blue-green algae found in treated water from Detroit Lake near Salem, according to OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie.

On Wednesday, OHA re-issued a health advisory for Detroit Lake because of the harmful bacteria. The drinking advisory is for women who are pregnant or nursing, kids under 6-years-old, those with compromised immune systems and those with kidney and liver issues.

“In Salem’s case that was really the first time we’ve seen cyanotoxins make it into the finished water,” Modie said.

The Salem advisory has caused many businesses to stop using the tap water, instead opting for bottled water or even ordering expensive filtration systems.

Cyanotoxins are toxins created by blue-green algae. The toxins can cause a variety of symptoms, including numbness, tingling and dizziness, that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems, according to the health authority.

The toxins aren’t absorbed through the skin, but those with skin sensitivities may experience a puffy, red rash if they touch it.

Modie said the preliminary list of water systems will likely more than double.

Right now, 16 of Douglas County’s water systems are considered at risk. A majority of sites listed are on the South and North Umpqua River.

In creating the list, Modie said his organization looked at what bodies of surface water have had algae issues in the past.

“We looked at that list and then we said ‘Well, which of these do water systems pull water from?’” Modie said.

There are roughly 300 water systems in Oregon that pull from surface water sources.

In the coming weeks, Modie said OHA is looking at creating rules that would require risk-prone water systems in the state to test the water for cyanotoxins and report the results.

“Ultimately, there will be an emergency rule that will become a permanent rule,” Modie said.

He said the goal of the rules is to prevent another situation like what happened in Salem.

Rebecca Hillwig, a natural resource specialist with OHA, said when the South Umpqua River recedes it leaves behind pools that can heat up and create an environment for the bacteria to multiply.

After several dog deaths in 2009, the health agency implemented a permanent health advisory at the Lawson Bar on the South Umpqua River due to toxic pools, according to Hillwig.

Dogs are highly susceptible to the toxins and can die if they drink water out of an area that contains a bloom.

Hillwig said ingestion is the main way people are exposed, so activities like swimming can exacerbate vulnerability.

“We recommend that people don’t swim in areas near a bloom,” Hillwig said.

While blue-green algae bears the name of the filamentous organism, Hillwig said it’s as far from algae as it could be.

The blue-green variety is like “globs of gelatinous stuff floating around,” Hillwig said.

Blue-green algae blooms can also look foamy, scummy or like a thick green paint on the water.

The toxins contained inside can’t be killed by boiling or with water filters, Hillwig said.

“If you’re backpacking, you definitely want to go to an area where the water does look clear,” she said.

Modie said there is blue-green algae in most inland bodies of water, but it’s when the conditions are right that toxic blooms happen.

“It’s important to remember there are cyanobacteria in all lakes and rivers,” Modie said, “It’s just when the conditions are right they come together to create these blooms.”

The at-risk water systems in Douglas County include: Roseburg, Glide, Tokatee Village, Umpqua Basin Water Association, Tiller Ranger Station, Tiller Elementary, Milo Academy, Canyonville, Riddle, Lawson Acres Water Association, Tri-City, Myrtle Creek, Clarks Branch Water Association, Roseburg Forest Products, Winston Dillard Water District and Roberts Creek Water District.

Saphara Harrell can be reached at 541-957-4216 or sharrell@nrtoday.com. Or on Twitter @daisysaphara.

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Crime and Natural Resources Reporter

Saphara Harrell is the crime and natural resources reporter for The News-Review. She previously worked at The World in Coos Bay. Follow her on Twitter @daisysaphara.

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