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State will test scum found in Jackson Creek

CENTRAL POINT — Public health officials hope to learn by early next week whether a greenish scum in Jackson Creek that triggered an advisory Thursday against water contact is indeed a bloom of potentially toxic blue-green algae.

Water samples collected Friday will be analyzed to determine if the stretch of creek through Central Point contains Oregon's first confirmed bloom of cyanobacteria, commonly called blue-green algae, so far this year.

Based on visual inspections and photographs, the Oregon Public Health Division issued the volunteer advisory to warn against water contact by people and pets during a heat wave that might draw people to this urban stream.

"I'm told that Jackson Creek goes through backyards in Central Point and kids have been known to play in the creek with their dogs," says Curtis Cude, who manages the division's Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance Program. "That's why we jumped on it so quickly."

The creek's water quality came into question Tuesday when a resident alerted Central Point city officials to what appeared to be a spill of blue-green paint in the creek between West Pine Street and Beall Lane, says Stephanie Holtey, who manages the city's stormwater program.

"That was kind of a red flag right there," Holtey says.

After seeing and photographing the nearly fluorescent water, Holtey compared it to images of a 2008 bloom on Oregon's Tualatin River before concluding it likely was a bloom, she says.

Holtey contacted officials from the Rogue Valley Council of Governments and state Department of Environmental Quality, eventually forwarding the photographs to state and county public-health officials, who made the advisory call Thursday, Holtey says.

Water tests will look into whether the creek contains any of three common forms of cyanobacteria present in Oregon and whether cell counts exceed what is considered dangerous.

If algae levels exceed safety thresholds, the voluntary advisory against water contact will continue until further tests show that algae levels have abated and no dangerous levels of toxins associated with cyanobacteria are present, according to public-health guidelines.

Toxins associated with blue-green algae blooms can produce numbness, tingling and dizziness and lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems.

Since Oregon began issuing public-health advisories for blue-green algae in the mid-2000s, no injuries to people have been directly linked to algae exposure, but four dogs have died from ingesting algae toxins along the Umpqua and South Umpqua rivers.

Thursday's advisory marked the latest into summer Oregon has gone without a blue-green algae advisory being issued by public-health officials.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.