By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Mike Zimmerman, the ranger who manages the park, said Wednesday that the earliest he’ll announce it is this Monday, with his decision dependent on receiving a recommendation from Jefferson County Public Health Department staff.
“The latest [day his decision would be announced] would be dependent upon if the health department decides they want to do one more visual [inspection] prior to the Saturday opening,” Zimmerman said.
Anderson Lake has at times in past years had the highest levels of a potent nerve toxin, anatoxin-a, in the state. The toxin is created by blue-green algae.
Although it occurs naturally and is usually benign, the algae, which is fueled by warm weather and nutrients such as phosphorus, can begin for reasons unknown to researchers to produce toxins.
Since 2006, when two dogs died after drinking lake water Memorial Day weekend, tests of samples have been done to see if Anderson Lake is safe for recreational use, including fishing.
The statewide start of the trout-fishing season is April 27. Officials had planned to test Anderson Lake before deciding if it could be reopened.
But no sample was taken because the state Department of Ecology will no longer fund routine weekly tests, instead directing that tests be done only when a bloom can be seen in the lake, said Greg Thomason, environmental health specialist with Jefferson County Public Health.
In the past, Ecology had paid for weekly tests — which range from $200 to $300 — for potentially dangerous levels of toxins, regardless of whether algae blooms were visible.
Samples taken Mondays were sent to King County Environmental Labs for testing, with results received by the following Friday, in a weekly routine that began in April and continued until September or October.
Those test results determined if lakes were safe.
Now, county health department staff will have to rely more heavily on visual inspections of Lake Anderson, as well as county lakes in East Jefferson County.
“Ecology is not able to fund weekly monitoring for toxicity testing when there are not algal blooms,” said Linda Kent, Ecology spokeswoman, in an email, adding that the measure is statewide.
Kent said Ecology still will pay for the analysis of samples taken after an algae bloom is spotted, just as the department does for lakes across the state.
Ecology also cut the amount it provides for administrative costs.
It is providing $15,000 for testing in 2013 and 2014, half of the $30,000 it gave the county in 2011 and 2012, said Jared Keefer, Jefferson County environmental health and water quality director.
Keefer said Jefferson County has set aside $10,000 of its own money for testing and still plans to rely on that for any tests needed that Ecology will not fund.
Following the reduced testing schedule for this year, Thomason said he inspected Anderson, Leland, Gibbs and Crocker lakes Monday but took water samples only from Leland because it had a visible algae bloom.
Thomason said he has sent the Leland sample to Seattle and expects results back this Friday.
Although less testing likely means less data on Anderson Lake’s health this season, Thomason said he is not concerned about not being able to test the lake if no algae blooms are spotted since no blooms have been seen for months.
“I’m not too worried now,” Thomason said.
“We haven’t had a bloom, and it’s been clear all winter.”
However, past potentially deadly toxin levels that have closed Anderson Lake have appeared when the water appeared clear after a large-scale algae bloom had dissipated, Thomason explained.
“Based on our data, that’s when we’ve had our highest toxin [levels],” he added.
In these instances, Thomason said public health staff will use county funds to sample Anderson Lake and send the samples for testing.
“We will find the money to process [those samples], no matter what,” Thomason said.
“We are committed to public health.”
In addition to anatoxin-a, which can quickly cause paralysis and death, another algae-produced toxin, microcystin, also has been found at times in East Jefferson County lakes.
Microcystin can cause nausea and skin irritation over a short period of time and liver damage if ingested in lake water over the longer term.
Thomason said public health staff will continue to update the status of the lakes tested at Jefferson County’s website, http://tinyurl.com/jeffersonlakewaterquality.
Even if Lake Anderson is closed to recreation and fishing, Zimmerman said the 410-acre Anderson Lake State Park around the lake will be open to visitors.
“We’ll open the park for other recreation regardless of what the health of the lake is,” Zimmerman said.
Visitors need a Discover Pass — either $10 for a day or $30 for a year — to park within Anderson Lake State Park.
Passes can be bought at any state park, where hunting or fishing licenses are sold, by phoning 866-320-9933 or by visiting www.discoverpass.wa.gov.
Toxin-producing blue-green algae has not been spotted in Clallam County.
Report algae blooms in Clallam County by phoning 360-417-2258, while Jefferson County blooms can be reported at 360-385-9444.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.