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Forest Service appeals DEQ fine for creek algae

The U.S. Forest Service is appealing an $8,800 fine levied against it by the state for allowing a heavy mat of algae to flow out of its reservoir at the J. Herbert Stone Nursery and into Jackson Creek last summer.

The state Department of Environmental Quality issued its fine after tracing a bright, almost turquoise sheet of algae in Jackson Creek near Central Point to the nursery's 7-acre pond in July. The incident triggered a six-day warning against water contact with the creek.

Though the algae proved to be a strain not linked to potential toxic releases as initially feared, allowing the reservoir to overflow and pollute Jackson Creek violated state law, according to the DEQ.

Algae mats can damage a stream's oxygen levels and this particular algae — called aphanizomenon flos-aquae — can stain rocks and other stream features and otherwise harm water quality.

"Just releasing an algal mat reduces water quality," said Bill Meyers, the DEQ's water-quality specialist in the Rogue River Basin.

Since that release, nursery officials have drawn down the reservoir so it is no longer full, and have created a management plan that includes no longer releasing any of the reservoir's water directly into Jackson Creek, Meyers said.

"As long as they're following the plan, they should be fine in the future," Meyers said.

Nursery Manager John Justin could not be reached for comment.

The case is somewhat rare in Oregon, DEQ officials said.

"I don't think we have that many instances where we have a point source that discharges algae," said Jeff Bachman, a DEQ environmental law specialist in Portland.

However, Meyers said, it was easy in this case to trace the bright algae mats to the reservoir, where water samples showed up to 12 million cells per milliliter of algae.

Tests in Jackson Creek upstream of the reservoir turned up no algae.

Central Point city workers noticed the bright algae bloom in the creek near Hanley Road. Water samples were collected and the voluntary advisory against water contact was issued immediately based on visual evidence because kids and pets were known to wade and play in the urban stream that winds through housing developments.

When test results six days later showed the algae was not a toxin-producer, the voluntary advisory was lifted by Oregon Public Health.

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