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'If you see foam on the water, or scum, then you probably shouldn't swim'

Blue-green algae toxins are affecting more Oregon lakes as temperatures rise. Health officials warn the public to avoid swallowing contaminated water. (SBG photo)

EUGENE, Ore. – The number of lakes with confirmed blue-green algae toxins seems to be rising with the temperatures. The latest, Odell Lake in Lane County, is under a health advisory. Swallowing water with toxic levels of algae can be dangerous for both people and pets.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, it’s like a “checker board” of different agencies dealing with the health issue. OHA says it used to monitor toxic algae, but policies changed after the summer of 2015.

Swimmers, boaters, and pet owners beware.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger Christine Johnson says responsibility falls on the individual when it comes to avoiding toxic algae.

“If you see foam on the water, or scum, then you probably shouldn't swim in it,” Johnson said.

Not all algae are toxic, but swallowing high levels of toxic algae water can cause symptoms that mimic food poisoning.

The Oregon Health Authority says monitoring starts with a management agency.

Rebecca Hillwig, a natural resource specialist with the Oregon Health Authority, says there aren’t enough resources for the agencies to do the costly test anymore.

“I don't know if it's toxic or not, but it potentially could be and it’s especially dangerous for dogs,” Johnson said.

She said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used to monitor several rivers and lakes.

“We just felt like it wasn't really keeping people safe. It wasn't effective; it wasn't efficient, and it wasn't timely, Johnson said.

In many cases, monitoring is out and signs are in to alert the public about the danger.

“It's just impossible for park rangers to get around to every place all of the time and get these tests done in a timely manner. So it's just people can make their own choice,” Johnson said.

We talked to some rafters who said being on the water is worth the risk.

“Since it seems pretty clear I thought it would be safe,” said Lynette Quick Garcia who was rafting.

She said she wishes there was a way to know for sure if the water is safe to play in.

“It would be nice if they had something that could let us know, yes, it's been tested and there is or there isn't,” she said.

The Oregon Health Authority also says they rely on people reaching out to them if they do feel symptoms from toxic algae.

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