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State identifies dozens of systems at risk for toxic algae blooms

The Oregon Health Authority has identified 41 water systems in the state at risk for toxic algae blooms similar to those responsible for Salem’s drinking water advisory.

The systems include cities, businesses, schools and various water districts that draw from surface waters with a history of algae blooms.

Most draw from the same Oregon river basins: the Rogue, Umpqua, Clackamas, McKenzie, Santiam and upper Willamette.

The state’s increased focus on algal toxins comes in response to the presence of those toxins above EPA health advisory limits in Salem’s drinking water for the first time. The city has declared a pair of drinking water advisories in the past two weeks, and the advisory will continue until at least the end of next week as a water treatment is tested.

“Water systems want to do the right thing. They want to protect their customers,” said OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie. “Certainly the situation in Salem is a wake-up call for everyone.”

Salem’s do-not-drink advisory is for children under 6 years old and vulnerable adults, including those with impaired immune systems, people affected by kidney or liver disease and pregnant or nursing mothers. It is also recommended that pets do not drink the water.

The most recent testing of water samples collected Sunday and Monday indicated that toxins were below EPA advisory levels for vulnerable populations.

About 300 Oregon drinking water systems utilize surface water, and in the coming days more of them could be added to this list of 41 as OHA includes additional variables beyond historic precedent.

It’s unclear what may be required of any systems found to be at risk for toxic algae blooms in regards to testing or treatment. OHA Director Pat Allen said last week that his agency will implement temporary rules requiring testing for cyanotoxins, but those conversations are still ongoing. Any permanent rules would have to go through a more laborious process later on.

Any additional requirements are going to cost money for work hours and testing, likely placing more responsibility on a state department that has been underfunded for years.

Drinking Water Services within OHA, which regulates all 3,000 water systems in the state, has shed almost a third of its staff since 2011, forcing remaining employees to prioritize regulating some systems over others and stop all but the most critical data management.

Department manager David Emme said funding has been stagnant at best as the federal grants that make up the majority of the budget have not kept up with inflation or increasing personnel costs.

The state’s funding also proved unreliable, as the medical marijuana fees used to fund the agency over the past couple biennia declined after full legalization. General funds replaced that in 2017, but at levels still below what Emme said is needed to fund the department’s core purposes.

Even before Salem’s water crisis, Emme said, the department was working on a plan to pitch to the state Legislature that would raise an additional $1 million per year by issuing new fees to water systems. The budget for this biennium is $13.6 million.

The plan is supposed to go before lawmakers during the 2019 session. Fees would vary based on system size — larger systems would be asked to pay more than smaller systems — and the day-to-day benefit would largely go toward those smaller systems that don’t have the staff to test their water independently of the state.

“We’re in good shape, but smaller cities that may need more help, that might really impact them,” said Dwayne Barnes, utility operations manager for City of Salem Public Works.

Salem’s Democratic Senator Peter Courtney has also said he wants water funding to be a priority in 2019. He expects a proposal to be presented during September legislative days so lawmakers can be ready to move forward when the January session begins.

“That part of the budget has got to get special attention in the next session,” the Senate President said.

Courtney said he also wants to see a major water testing facility built in Oregon, so water samples no longer have to be shipped to out-of-state labs. Results from samples of Salem’s water during the crisis arrive on a two-day delay because testing is done in a lab in Ohio.

“We have a very serious problem in the state of Oregon that we have to address,” Courtney said.

Here are the 41 water systems in Oregon identified by state officials as being at risk for toxic algae blooms.

Oregon Public Water Systems at Risk

Anglers Cove/SCHWC
Rogue River
City of Albany Santiam River
City of Canyonville Canyon Creek
City of Cottage Grove Row River
City of Creswell C. F. Willamette R.
City of Estacada Clackamas River
City of Gates N. Santiam River
City of Glide N. Umpqua River
City of Gold Beach Rogue River
City of Gold Hill Rogue River
City of Grants Pass Rogue River
City of Jefferson Santiam River
City of Lowell M. F. Willamette R.
City of Myrtle Creek S. Umpqua River
City of Riddle Cow Creek
City of Rogue River Rogue River
City of Roseburg N. Umpqua River
Clackamas River Water-Clackamas Clackamas River
Clarks Branch Water Association S. Umpqua River
Country View Estates W. S. Rogue River
Eugene Water and Electric Board McKenzie River
Lake Oswego Municipal Water Clackamas River
Lawson Acres Water Association Cow Creek
Lyons Mehema Water District N. Santiam River
Medford Water Commission Rogue River
Mill City Water Department N. Santiam River
Milo Academy S. Umpqua River
North Clackamas County W. C. Clackamas River
PP &L-Tokatee Village N. Umpqua River
Roberts Creek Water District S. Umpqua River
Roseburg Forest Products-Dillard S. Umpqua River
Salem Public Works N. Santiam River
South Fork W. B. Oregon City Clackamas River
Springfield Utility Board McKenzie River
Springfield Utility Board M. F. Willamette R.
Stayton Water Supply N. Santiam River
Tiller Elementary S. Umpqua River
Tiller Ranger Station S. Umpqua River
Tri-City JW & SA S. Umpqua River
Umpqua Basin Water Association N. Umpqua River
Winston Dillard Water District S. Umpqua River

Source: Oregon Health Authority

Contact the reporter at cradnovich@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich

Source: https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2018/06/13/salem-water-update-41-systems-risk-toxic-algae-blooms-oregon-health-authority/696665002/


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