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New grant funds research to study toxic algae blooms in Oregon waterways

Scientists say the frequency, duration, and intensity of algae blooms in Northwest waterways are increasing each year.

Two researchers look and point at a small container of water next to a river on a sunny day.

The new grant will support opportunities for students to join scientific scholars in field data collection.

Photos by the University of Portland

Hot summers mean an increased risk of harmful algae and bacteria blooms (HABBs) in Oregon’s rivers, lakes, and estuaries. A new grant is funding research efforts coordinated by the University of Portland to better understand the problem — and hopefully lead to solutions.

Cyanobacteria, aka blue-green algae, grows and multiplies using sunlight and nutrients in the water, but an increase in nutrients from things like fertilizers, animal waste, and herbicides can cause a growth explosion, or “bloom.” These blooms are toxic to people, pets, fish, wildlife — and the economy.

Remember last summer’s bloom on the Willamette River between Cathedral Park and Willamette Cove? Authorities had to issue warnings to not drink the water, swim in it, or even float on it.

A grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust is supporting collaborative research efforts at the University of Portland, Willamette University, and Walla Walla University. Their work could help officials detect HABBs faster — or even predict and prevent them.

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