Farrer, a toxicologist for the Oregon Health Authority, said
the most recent samples of the toxic blue-green algae, Microcystis
aeruginosa, contaminating the lakes were collected the
second week in August.
that time, toxins in Upper Klamath Lake and Agency Lake were
higher than they were when we issued the health warning,”
Toxicologists aren’t sure why the levels are increasing,
health warning advising the public and their pets to
stay out of the water bodies was issued in late July
after high levels of the toxic Microcystis algae
was found in Upper Klamath and Agency lakes.
a cyanobacteria that produces harmful microcystin toxins
that can cause liver damage.
The warning extends from Agency and Upper Klamath lakes
to the Klamath River at J.C. Boyle Dam.
The advisory is the first of its kind to be issued for
Upper Klamath Lake, but several other water bodies in
Klamath and Lake counties have received health
advisories in the past.
According to Farrer, scientists can’t say how long the
toxins will remain; however, observations at other lakes
have revealed that once an algae bloom turns toxic,
water conditions typically remain unsafe until cool
weather and rain arrive in fall.
“It’s like predicting the weather — it’s impossible to
know for sure,” Farrer said.
reports of the algae-related illness have been reported,
but wildlife is known to have died from ingesting toxic
algae at other Oregon lakes. Farrer said there is a
“strong likelihood” waterfowl and small herds of elk and
bighorn sheep have died after drinking from contaminated
“We haven’t had any reports (of wildlife die-offs)
specific to Upper Klamath Lake this year,” Farrer said.
Eric Janney, a fish biologist for the U.S. Geological
Survey, said scientists don’t know how algae — toxic or
otherwise — affects endangered Lost River and shortnose
suckers that inhabit Upper Klamath Lake.
“That’s the million dollar question,” he said.
non-toxic blue-green algae called Aphanizomenon
in Upper Klamath Lake year-round.
“That’s what’s responsible for the poor water quality,”
Although suckers are known to withstand extremely poor
water conditions, the species’ populations have declined
sharply in recent decades and both were given
protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1988.
Ramona Quinn, a Klamath County Department of Public
Health program manager, said about 40 toxin warning
signs have been placed along the impacted water bodies.
“Any place we could find a marina, a boat dock or a
place people play,” Quinn said.
Until the advisory is lifted, the public should avoid
coming into contact with or ingesting contaminated
water, Quinn said.
“They need to keep pets away and keep small children out
of the water if there’s a chance they might ingest it,”
Farrer said algae-related illness presents symptoms
similar to a stomach flu. He said symptoms will appear
within 24 hours of exposure.
To find out if an
advisory has been issued or lifted, visit www.healthoregon.org/hab and
select “algae bloom advisories,” or call the Public
Health Division toll-free information line at
877-290-6767. For health information or to report an
illness, contact Oregon Health Authority at 971-673-0400