CULVER, OR -- Jefferson County businesses dependent on tourism are frustrated with this week's expansion of a health advisory for Lake Billy Chinook, by the Oregon Health Authority. Jim Cyr, with the Cove Corner Store, says the water appears fine, "Since July second the lake has cleared off and has been crystal clear; it’s as clean as it is in the middle of winter." And, he says the warning to visitors has caused a 50% drop in business, during what should be his busiest time of year. "The phone is not ringing to reserve boats but it is ringing to cancel boats. So, basically, our only hope is to direct them to our Facebook page so they can see that the conditions of the lake are phenomenal."
Rebecca Hillwig, a Natural Resource Specialist with the Oregon Health Authority, understands the frustration. But, she tells KBND News, not all toxins create a scum on the surface of the water. And, she says due to the heat our area has experienced, the bacteria doesn't need to come to the surface to find warmth.
Cyr points out the samples used to determine the safety of the water were taken 10 days ago, and conditions could've changed between then and now. Hillwig says the advisory was issued based on the most current data available, and the OHA's mission is to keep people safe and healthy. Water samples were taken July third, and she admits testing and the release of results were delayed by the Independence Day holiday. Those results showed the Metolius is pushing Cyanobacteria toxins downstream, which is why the advisory was expanded to include the entire lake. She expects new samples will be taken in the next couple of days, with results available by the end of next week.
Lake Billy Chinook has had algae bloom advisories issued before, and Cyr says it always impacts business, "In the past, I know the campgrounds are empty when these alerts come out. We do get more people calling and asking us, ‘what are the actual conditions of the lake – what’s it look like to you?’ And, it’s helped a bunch having the Facebook page." He adds, "From the restaurants to the gas stations to the motels to the recreational businesses; it just affects everybody."
Despite warnings, "People are definitely using the lake," says Cyr. He thinks it's a lot of concern over something potentially very minor, "I wish I could find the email that I received from the Oregon Health Authority, because I’d emailed earlier in the year and asked them how many people have been sick from the waters of Lake Billy Chinook. We have approximately 800,000 visitors a year and since 2009, they believe possibly two people have gotten sick." Hillwig, who is a toxicology specialist, says because Cyanotoxin is a liver toxin, exposure symptoms can mimic food poisoning, so not everyone who gets sick knows it's from the water, nor does everyone report it to state officials. And, she says it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to develop in humans. Although, dogs and small children are much more at risk, with symptoms showing up in one to two hours.