Algae shuts down small-town water plant

Steve PollickWe all knew that the ugly, toxic pea-soup algae in summertime Lake Erie was unsightly, bad for tourism, the  fisheries, your swimming Labrador and such, but now comes news that this summer’s crop is so toxic it has forced the shutdown of a small community water plant in western Ottawa County.

The Carroll Township water plant, which serves 2,000 residents, earlier this month was taken offline while operators scratched their heads over what to do about it, according to The Blade in Toledo.

Specifically, the paper said, poisonous microcystin, the toxin in Lake Erie’s most prevalent harmful blue-green algae, microcystis, was found at levels of 3.56 parts per billion in samples drawn from the Carroll Township plant, and that is 3.5 times higher than the 1.0 parts per billion threshold for drinking water established by the World Health Organization.

Worse yet, the discovery of the toxin levels was a fluke, inasmuch as the Ohio EPA does not require Ohio’s shoreline communities to test for it at all and the township tests for it only weekly. The pea-soup scum has been a summertime pest and threat on the lake, especially the western basin, since 1995.

A peak bloom, linked to several major rainstorm-flood events in the Maumee and Sandusky river watersheds in the spring of 2011, threatened both the western and central basins and sharply focused official attention on fixing the problem, which is tied largely though not exclusively to dissolved phosphorus fertilizer runoff from farms. But the Carroll Township water shutdown is a new twist in the ongoing saga of environmental missteps involving a precious water resource.

In the interim, the township was granted emergency hookup to the Ottawa County Regional Water Plant, which serves Port Clinton, Oak Harbor, and other parts of Ottawa County. Bottled water also was being handed out for drinking water.

Water-treatment plants operated by larger cities, such as Toledo, have carbon-activated filtration, greater capacity, and other advantages that allow them to remove the toxin more easily, The Blade said, noting that such treatment is expensive, at least $3,000 a day just on that filtration.

The rural township’s plant uses a conventional ozone system that can be used effectively to combat the algae. But this summer’s toxin levels accumulated near the plant’s intake at such levels that it overwhelmed the plant.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a significant algae bloom bloom this summer. The blooms usually peak in mid to late-September, and fades by mid-October as water temperatures cool and winds stir the lake. The 2013 bloom is expected to affect mostly western Lake Erie and not be as intense as the super-bloom of 2011.

Except if you live in Carroll Township.

If nothing else the increased toxic threat to drinking water should boost pressure on officialdom to get this problem fixed. Sooner than later.

Categories: OhiBlogs, Ohio – Steve Pollick

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