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Toxic algae tracking in Oregon to decrease

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The Oregon Health Authority will be paying less attention to toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes after a federal grant expired.

The agency will continue to issue warnings that tell Oregonians to stay out of some lakes, but it will have fewer resources to keep track of water samples and do public education, said environmental toxicologist David Farrer.

The funding amounted to about $150,000 a year, which covered two employees, travel and materials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said grants went to nine states for five years to help build public awareness of harmful algae blooms.

The focus of the grants was to gather data for a project to monitor illness from harmful blooms, spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said.

While the grant was in force, Oregon posted 14 toxic algae warnings in 2008, 20 in 2009, 21 in 2010, 18 in 2011, nine in 2012 and nine so far this year. The warnings tend to peak in late summer, when temperatures and hours of sunlight are high, Farrer said.

Increased public awareness may account for the initial increase in warnings, but it’s not clear why the number fell in recent years.