By Peter H. Milliken
Two major local drinking-water suppliers are closely monitoring their water quality here as experts predict a severe toxic-algae outbreak this summer in Lake Erie due to heavy rains that wash algae-feeding phosphorus into the water.
A toxic Lake Erie algae bloom last August made Toledo’s water supply undrinkable for two days.
Jeff LaRue, an Aqua Ohio spokesman, said his company doesn’t expect to have the same problem this summer in its Mahoning Valley lakes.
He added, however, “We’re always on high alert, especially during extended warm weather events. We continually monitor the water quality in our source water,” in conjunction with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Algae growth is difficult to predict, “but we pull samples on a regular basis and do algae counts” monthly in Meander Reservoir and its 18 tributaries, said Anthony Vigorito, chief engineer at the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.
Testing becomes more frequent if a sample shows a high algae count, he said.
Heavy rains increase the flow of phosphorus and other nutrients from farm-fertilizer runoff that support algae growth, Vigorito said.
Tests so far this year show “a little more algae than in normal years,” he said.
He added, however, “So far, it’s nothing that we can’t handle at the plant,” using water-treatment chemicals.
MVSD’s treatment plant adds carbon to the water to control algae-induced taste and odor.
LaRue said Aqua Ohio has a plan to communicate quickly with its customers via phone, email and text message in case of a water-supply emergency.
Aqua protects its source waters by building vegetation buffers around them, he said. That means not mowing shoreline grass.
Letting shoreline grass grow without mowing it filters pollutants out of rainwater before it reaches a lake, he explained.
MVSD protects Meander Reservoir by owning a fenced-in forest around the reservoir shoreline, which filters out pollutants, and by forbidding swimming and boating at the reservoir.
Only on rare occasions is fishing from shore permitted there, Vigorito said.
Aqua’s primary water source for the 45,000 people served by its Struthers Division is Evans Lake.
That division has connections with the Youngstown and Campbell water-supply systems as backup supplies of treated water.
MVSD is completing a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a backup water supply from Berlin Reservoir.
A pipe runs from Berlin Reservoir to Meander Creek, which flows into Meander Reservoir.
Installing a pipe from Berlin that would bypass Meander and deliver Berlin water directly to MVSD’s treatment plant, however, would likely cost about $20 million, Vigorito said.
MVSD serves about 220,000 people in Niles, Youngstown and surrounding communities.
The Ohio EPA announced last week a new advisory system to alert the public if microcystin or other compounds produced by blue-green algae are detected in treated drinking water, with such advisories being posted at ohioalgaeinfo.com.
Depending on circumstances, everyone may be told not to drink the water or advice not to drink the public water may be limited to bottle-fed infants, preschool children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and people who are on dialysis or have pre-existing liver conditions, the OEPA said.