A special session of the Environmental Council was held Thursday, January 23 on the topic of algae and Lake Erie. The program was particularly directed toward elected officials and operators of water intakes and treatment plants.
In the summer of 2013, operators of the water treatment system in Ottawa County’s Carroll Township temporarily shut down because of algae. In Toledo, water treatment plant operators needed a budget increase of $1 million to pay for chemicals required to address algae in the water supply.
Lake Erie is the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents in Fulton, Lucas, Monroe, Ottawa, and Wood counties. Industry also relies on safe water. The Environmental Council program described actions that have been taken to protect the public from toxins and offered projections of what will be needed to assure safe water supplies in the future. The program included presentations from operators of the four largest water systems in the western Lake Erie region: the cities of Toledo, Monroe and Oregon, and Ottawa County.
The EPA does not mandate that water treatment plants test for microcystis. The plant operators began to test on their own several years ago when they became concerned about visible algae. The World Health Organization recommends that drinking water contain no more than 1.0 parts per billion and that is the figure that they use as a benchmark. Kelly Frey of the Ottawa County plant noted that microcystis is toxic, more toxic than cyanide. The operators noted that their expertise is water treatment, not health decisions. Frey said that while the plants are managing to contain the toxin now, the effort is “very concerning” and that he and fellow water treatment plant managers are “so fearful” that toxin from the bacteria could prove dangerous to the people who drink water from their facilities. All four of the water treatment experts on the panels said that the control of phosphorus runoff is the first step to reducing algae blooms. Phosphorus reaches the lake through fertilizers used in agriculture, on golf courses, and, it was suggested by one attendee, from large confined animal feeding operations.
Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments | www.tmacog.org