Tribe posts river algae advisories

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate September 17, 2012 07:22 pm

In what has become an annual routine, toxic blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) is now blooming in the Klamath River at levels that exceed public health criteria as far downstream as Klamath Glen.  Reports state its estuary is currently not affected.

After testing indicated the levels of blue-green algae were above the threshold for recreational waters on the Klamath River from Weitchpec to Turwar Creek in Klamath Glen, the Yurok Tribe posted advisories this week at public river access points warning people to avoid contact with the river.

The Sept. 5 testing indicated that the estuary (downstream from Turwar Creek in Klamath Glen) had not exceeded the public threshold, but “water users should always avoid contact with water whenever noticeable surface concentrations of algae or an obvious green to blue-green appearance are evident,” according to the Yurok Tribe’s report.

In a Wednesday advisory, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board said that cyanobacteria levels in waters below the Iron Gate Dam have not reached “action level,” but noted that the levels are increasing and water users should use caution.

“As blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) can pose health risks, especially to children and pets, we urge people to be careful where they swim,” said Matt St. John, Executive Officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, in the advisory.  “We recommend that people and their pets avoid contact with the blooms, and particularly avoid swallowing or inhaling water spray in an algal bloom area.”

The blooms appear as very green water and blue-green, white or brown foam, scum or mats floating on the water, the advisory states.

Hundreds of anglers and commercial tribal fishermen are capitalizing on the Klamath River’s expected record-run of fall chinook salmon. The state has not said that the fish are unsafe to eat.

The state’s posted health advisories say: “do not consume fish innards, and wash fillets with drinking water” and “people consuming shellfish should do so with caution as the risk to human health is being evaluate by public health authorities.”

Contact with the blooms can cause eye irritation, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold and flu-like symptoms, the advisory states. Ingestion of large amounts of contaminated water have caused liver failure, nerve damage and death in rare situations, the advisory said.

Where algal blooms are present, the state advisory recommends:

• Avoid swimming

• Do not drink, cook or wash dishes with untreated surface water under any circumstances; common water purification techniques (e.g., camping filters, tablets) may not remove toxins.

• People should limit or avoid eating fish.  If fish are consumed, remove guts and liver, and rinse meat in clean drinking water.

The Klamath Basin Monitoring Project has information for tracking the toxic blue-green algae at kbmp.net.  Click on “Blue-Green Algae Tracker” on the left side of the screen.

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