BEND, OR -- Toxin-producing bacteria are a concern every summer in Central Oregon lakes and reservoirs, and the Oregon health Authority is working to educate the public on signs the water may be dangerous. OHA Natural Resource Specialist Rebecca Hillwig says Cyanobacteria is naturally occurring and beneficial, except under certain conditions. When weather, sunlight, water temperature, nutrients, and water chemistry are ideal, the bacteria blooms. "It's really when they get what they need that they start multiplying into a colony that we call a bloom, when it becomes a problem. And, they can start producing toxins that are at a level that could, potentially, be harmful." She tells KBND News, "They don't always produce toxins, and not all genera cyanobacteria can produce toxins. But when they do, they can produce at a high enough level to be harmful."
Only a handful of bodies of water around Oregon are officially monitored, so Hillwig says it's important recreators pay attention to conditions. Visitors should avoid water that appears discolored, foamy, thick or scummy. She says the danger comes when that water is ingested, "Swimming, and things like water skiing, wakeboarding - where you could fall in and gulp water - and whatnot, are the activities that we're the most worried about. Also children and dogs are the most susceptible because of their size and level of activity." Dogs double their exposure by licking rocks, their own fur after a swim, and drinking the water.
Hillwig urges people to follow the OHA's summer motto: "if in doubt, stay out." For more information, including a link to current advisories, visit the OHA's harmful algae bloom website.