Earlier this week, officials in Oregon announced that the presence of a toxic blue-green algae in the waters of the Willow Creek Reservoir, a popular spot in Eastern Oregon for fishing and water sports. Although some alerts say boating is safe, the water is considered unsafe to drink, touch, or breathe. Boating and fishing, officials say, can be done “with caution”, meaning not to boat quickly enough to cause water spray or eat the parts of the fish that may have stored the toxic algae. For Oregon boaters the solution seems clear: Find another place to boat this summer. But are boaters generally aware of the safety of the waters in which they play?
Blue-green algae is not a rare occurrence, nor is it limited to Oregon or the Pacific Northwest. It’s been reported as far south and east as Florida in the United States and is seen commonly in other countries. In addition to blue-green algae, toxic red tides can arise from algal blooms. Waters can also be impacted by agriculture runoff and industrial pollution. There are a variety of factors that can make your favorite waterway suddenly unsafe.
How can you tell if the water is safe for boating?
It’s nice to think that water that looks clean is clean, and it’s true that many changes to the water can be easily seen. A red tide, for example, that typically occurs along coastal waterways will be easy to spot; the water literally turns red in areas. Extreme pollution may also affect the clarity of the water, a change a frequent visitor to a lake or stream may be able recognize with the naked eye. However, it’s not a good idea to rely on your vision when determining the safety of the water.
In the United States, government agencies are charged with monitoring the safety of most waterways. If a change occurs, they may post warnings to web sites, alert the media, or erect signs on-site. Become familiar with the water quality standards in your area, as well as the agencies responsibility for their regulating and enforcing them.
When it comes to boating safety, it’s not just what happens on the boat that counts. Before putting your boat in the water this summer, make sure you get familiar with the water condition in your area. Do your part to keep the local surface water safe by practicing green boating.