Ashland water has passed newly mandated state tests for toxic bacteria created by algae blooms. The tests are something the Ashland Water Department has already been doing for years.
About 100 water systems in Oregon are now required to test for harmful toxins that were found in Salem’s drinking water in May. Ashland is one of them, along with the Jackson County Parks facility at Emigrant Lake and the Medford Water Commission.
New state regulations by Oregon Health Authority (OHA) require these at-risk water systems to watch for algae blooms, the cause of the breeding toxins, and test drinking water biweekly. If excessive toxins are found, water will be tested daily.
Reeder Reservoir in the Ashland Creek watershed, Ashland’s main source for drinking water, is clear of toxins, according to Public Works Superintendent Michael Morrison.
The toxins which were found in algae blooms in Detroit Lake, Salem’s water source, are called cyanotoxins, which are produced by bacteria called cyanobacteria, otherwise known as blue-green algae.
According to Greg Hunter, Ashland water treatment plant supervisor, there is algae in the reservoir, but it’s not harmful.
“It’s a nonissue until it gets to bloom,” Hunter said. “We don’t let it get to bloom, that’s our strategy.”
Essentially, when algae “bloom,” it means that it has begun to grow exponentially.
Hunter said that they treat the water before the algae has a chance to bloom.
“We’re lucky that we have the ability to remove toxins in small amounts,” Hunter said.
Reeder Reservoir has an extra layer of water purification called “daphnia,” Hunter said. Daphnia are a very small, common water fleas that live in the water and eat algae. They’re an excellent aid in keeping algae to a minimal level, Hunter said.
Symptoms of the toxins that were found in Detroit Lake include, but are not limited to: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and kidney and liver damage, according to a document released by OHA.
The toxins cannot be filtered or boiled from the water.
“We’re very lucky in Ashland to have three water sources to pull from,” Morrison said. “So, if we found harmful algae in the water, we would be able to pull from the other water sources.”
The other sources are the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix (TAP) water line to the Medford system and the Talent Irrigation District, which draws from water stored at Howard Prairie and Hyatt lakes.
Climate change is a major concern.
“When our water gets warmer, the algae have a party,” Hunter said. It’s affected not only by warming temperatures, but snow pack as well. The cooler the water, the less chance of algae, and in years such as this with very little snowpack, the water supply is warmer and more susceptible to growing algae.
“With warmer water and dryer weather we can expect more algae in the coming years,” Morrison said.
Hunter said the water treatment plant has tested the water for all kinds of bacteria and toxins for years, but that hasn’t been due to state regulations until now. Because there are no labs certified for toxin analysis in Oregon, every two weeks a sample must be sent out-of-state using overnight shipping, which costs about $140 each time, Hunter said. The testing began in May and is required until October.
OHA will have a permanent requirement fleshed out by the end of the year to be implemented next year, Morrison said.
He said it’s an opportunity for the Neilson Research Corporation lab in Medford, among other Oregon labs, to become certified in toxin analysis, which would lower the costs for sampling.
“These are all new rules, so we’re following the rules and labs are going to have to get certified in Oregon,” Hunter said.