It is easy to take for granted the access to clean and safe water that we all enjoy. But without the experts who design, construct, operate and manage the utilities that provide our water, this luxury would not exist. This week, I had the privilege of addressing our regional water professionals at the 32nd annual American Water Works Association (AWWA) Pacific Northwest Section Cascade to Coast Short School, held March 13-16 at the Valley River Inn in Eugene, OR. The subject of my talk was “Blue-Green Algae? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em”.
In this presentation, I discussed the subject of cyanobacteria (actual bacteria, not algae!), some of which produce the harmful ‘algal’ blooms that occur annually in fresh waters in Oregon. The topics covered included a discussion of the variety of organisms involved, their ecology, the toxins they produce and mechanisms of toxicity, and the regulatory guidelines that the Oregon Health Authority uses when public health interventions are warranted.
So, why can’t we live without cyanobacteria? Well, these are among the oldest living organisms on the planet, some 3.5 billion years old. They are largely responsible for the production and maintenance of the Earth’s oxygen atmosphere. And, counter to the popular belief that dinosaurs made our oil, cyanobacteria actually made most of the oil we use.
Why can’t we live with ‘em? Well, toxic water can make you very sick. Several dogs were actually killed by drinking algal-infested waters in southern Oregon in the last few years. And, since algal blooms seem to be increasing in frequency, it is important that our water managers are educated and vigilant on the subject of cyanobacteria and the toxins they can produce.
Click here to learn more about the Pacific Northwest Section of AWWA