Salem Taking Steps to Protect Against Toxins in Water

Posted on April 22, 2019

Salem, Ore. — The City of Salem is taking steps to safeguard its drinking water in preparation of algal blooms in the North Santiam watershed. Algal blooms can produce cyanotoxins that pose health risks at certain levels. New drinking water rules were developed by the Oregon Health Authority in 2018 to address cyanotoxins.

The City has been preparing in case another season of high algae levels in the watershed produce harmful cyanotoxins. “Our work focuses on three areas—improving drinking water treatment today, working on capital projects that will keep our drinking water safe in the future, and making sure we have equipment, partnerships, and volunteer resources in place to distribute water more quickly community-wide,” said Salem’s City Manager, Steve Powers.

Staff are closely monitoring and sampling water in Detroit Reservoir and the North Santiam River and are ready to respond with additional treatment if cyanotoxins are detected. Because the City has acquired lab equipment that tests for cyanotoxins and gives timely results, Salem now has the information needed to make faster decisions about drinking water treatment.

Last year, cyanotoxins in the watershed reached levels which required the City to issue a drinking water advisory for vulnerable populations. In response, Salem introduced powdered activated carbon to the drinking water treatment process. Powdered activated carbon attaches to and removes cyanotoxins from the water.

The City’s long-term solution for removing cyanotoxins is to add ozone as a treatment step. Ozone is one of the strongest disinfectants used to treat drinking water. It produces no taste or odor and no ozone remains in the water after treatment. Design of the new ozone treatment system is underway and will be in place in 2021. Salem is also exploring supplemental water sources including wells at the Geren Island Water Treatment Facility that are expected to be ready by 2022.

Salem’s water is safe to drink now. If cyanotoxin test results indicate the need for a health advisory, the community and Salem’s water customers, will be notified through the City’s emergency notification system, news media, and social media channels. Water quality test results will also posted on the City’s website at www.cityofsalem/drinking-water. The City will be coordinating with the Oregon Health Authority, Marion County Environmental Services, and Oregon Department of Agriculture to provide residents and businesses the best available information on potential public health issues and steps the community can take to keep their family and pets safe. The same process will be used to let people know when the water is safe again to drink following an advisory.

Salem residents and businesses are being asked to help prepare for this and other possible emergencies by signing up for Salem’s Community Alert System. The Community Alert System provides immediate information in English and Spanish. Community members can sign up for this service at

Two more resources are the City’s preparedness website that has links to important local emergency information, and Oregon’s 2 Weeks Ready website that has tips on how to prepare.

Community members who have questions can contact the City of Salem at or 503-588-6311.

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