DETROIT, Ore. – Over the past few years, businesses in Detroit, like Detroit Lake Marina and Mountain High Grocery, have been through worst-case scenarios.
An economy that relies heavily on summer tourism has been hit hard repeatedly: the drought of 2015, low water levels in 2016 and nearby wildfires in 2017.
And then this year: blue-green algae blooms sent toxins pouring into corners of the lake and into the North Santiam River. Multiple on-and-off recreational use health advisories for lake visitors soon followed.
“I’m sure it’s impacted businesses because it scares people away from the recreational part of the lake,” said Shawn Anderson, who travels to the lake from Camas, Wash., with his family five or 10 times a year. “Inevitably it impacts businesses around here, the marinas as well as the restaurants around here.”
When the first advisories were issued in May, businesses saw an immediate drop in sales and some tourists canceled their reservations.
What originally looked like another bleak summer for Detroit businesses has a rosier outlook as they are reporting only slight drops in sales.
Many of the campgrounds and motels have still been full for the major holidays like July 4 and the July 7 Fireworks Over The Lake celebration.
“We’re booked solid,” Detroit Lake Marina owner Scott Lunski said. “One person canceled and two people called to make reservations.”
People aren't ignoring the advisories; many don't know the current water advisory has been in place since June 28.
Most of the waysides have warning placards in their parking lots about blue green algae, but don’t have information about the current water advisory.
“We get 10 phone calls a day asking if we have it,” said Keyonnie Zeober, a manager at Mountain High Grocery.
“We get people all the time, from the time we open until the time we close saying, ‘Hey, is there still an advisory? Hey, how’s your water up there? Is your water okay up there?’”
The City of Salem’s drinking water advisory for children, pregnant women or nursing mothers and people with compromised immune systems was rescinded on July 3. Salem gets its drinking water from the North Santiam River, which draws its water from Detroit Lake.
Zeober said she has noticed fewer children coming into Mountain High Grocery this summer, but more millennials in the store.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Zeober said. “A lot of people don’t care so they’re going to come up here either way.”
The toxic blue green algae blooms were first noticed at locations including Blowout Arm, Heater Creek Arm and near the dam in May.
This year’s first water quality alert was issued on May 23 and lifted June 8. Another alert was issued June 13 and lifted June 14. Another alert was issued June 15 and lifted June 25. The most recent alert was issued June 28 and is still in place.
People who have spent significant amounts of time at the lake say they avoid any areas that look suspicious, but that they have a hard time seeing any dangerous areas.
“Our reservations are down, but once people get up to the lake and see that it’s fine, they rent boats,” Lunski said.
What is more concerning to business owners in Detroit is the manner in which the advisories have been issued.
The Oregon Health Authority’s advisory states people should avoid drinking the water at Detroit Lake and avoid swimming and participating in power boating or water skiing in areas where algal blooms are identified.
Cyanotoxins microcystin and cylindrospermopsin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and skin irritation, cause additional liver or kidney problems to people who already have liver or kidney diseases and can injure the nervous system.
But the infected water has to be ingested in significant quantities.
“The advisories, I don’t think they put out enough information on them,” Lunski said. “If you were to call the water department and ask them how many people have gotten sick from them, it’s zero. There’s a lot of things you got to do to get sick from it.
“I think there’s a misconception on what it actually does and how it affects the body. I think they haven’t communicated that correctly.”
In late June, the Oregon Health Authority changed its protocol for lifting advisories at Detroit Lake, requiring three days of cyanotoxin levels to be below recreational advisory guidelines and visual confirmation that an algae bloom has subsided.
“We hope this new protocol for Detroit Lake will help reduce some of the confusion among the public about whether a recreational advisory is in place at the lake,” said David Farrer, Ph.D., toxicologist with the Environmental Public Health Section at the OHA Public Health Division.
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler