Algae and common sense

Algae and common sense


Common Sense, Algae and Drinking Water

One awesome employee we have here at the District is our Manager of Engineering, Thomas Stalter, PE.

I asked Tom to please write an article from his perspective on how we have approached the Lake Erie algae bloom issue.

As President of Northwestern Water & Sewer District, I feel we should take advantage of all communication outlets available and share the knowledge possessed by our staff, and this blog certainly is one way to do that.

Thus, Tom’s work is seen below.  We at NWWSD believe in collaboration and the pursuit of quality and I ask that you carefully read Tom’s article on Common Sense, Algae and Drinking Water.  Enjoy!

Common Sense, Algae and Drinking Water

After the Toledo water crisis involving algae (Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs) and the drinking water supply, there has been a constant barrage of information in the media.

This is difficult to understand for most and the addition of the political process to the mix has made it even less comprehensible. In my opinion, we need to use some common sense and try to understand and handle this issue in a reasonable and proper way.

First of all, if you have a groundwater source such as a private well or municipally treated groundwater supply, your water is safe from HAB.

Below is some information that may be helpful to know if your water supply is from a surface water source such as Lake Erie or other lakes and rivers.  This circumstance is when you may have to deal with HAB.


Certain species of algae prevalent in the lakes and rivers can produce toxins known as cyanotoxins. These include microcystins among others.

These toxins, when ingested in certain concentrations, have been shown to cause health problems.

The algal blooms feed upon nutrients in the water that are caused by failing septic systems, sewage overflows and agricultural runoff.

The extent of the blooms is also weather dependent. Cold winters, wind direction, rainfall and hot summers all have an impact on the concentration of HAB.

This is not a new problem.

Operators have been dealing with the blooms in reservoirs and lakes for many years.

Testing and New Advisory Levels for HAB

When the Toledo water system was shut down last August, it was due to elevated readings of microcystins in the raw and finished water supply.

At the time, testing for the toxins was voluntary and there was not a set standard by Ohio or the U.S. EPA. A maximum allowable concentration of 1.0 parts per billion was used as the standard. (This level was recommended in a report by the World Health Organization, as the only published information readily available.)

Most of the operators of water systems that utilize the western basin of Lake Erie as a raw water source have been running these tests for the last few years in an effort to monitor the levels and protect the public. To illustrate, in 2013, a water system outside of Wood County voluntarily shut down for a period of time as they dealt with the same problem.

The U.S. EPA recently issued national health advisory levels for microcystins. The level is based upon ten days of ingesting the water with no harmful health defects.

For pre-school aged children the level is 0.3 parts per billion and for all others the level is 1.6 parts per billion.

If the concentration in the water supply approaches these levels, public notices will be made.

Improvement and Prevention

The 2014 August crisis in Toledo helped to establish a better testing protocol and exposed the weaknesses in the process. The Ohio EPA and plant operators have used the lessons learned from this crisis to better improve their operations to further protect the public.

At the Northwestern Water & Sewer District, we have updated our contingency and emergency response plans to help us to respond to a similar crisis, should it be necessary.

We also highly recommend that everyone keep some bottled water in their homes as an emergency supply. Three gallons of water per person should be adequate as a three day supply (Please see Jerry’s previous blog on how to store water for emergency situations).

Some of the surface water operation plants have processes that can remove or neutralize the toxins through their regular treatment process. Others have made modifications to feed chemicals that will neutralize the toxin.

All are addressing the problem and are better prepared to prevent and respond.

Please keep in mind that there are several water treatment systems that we utilize to serve our customers. Problems in one of the systems, does not necessarily impact other areas.

Our surface water sources include supplies from Toledo, Bowling Green, Oregon and Fostoria.

Please see our website /about/services or contact us for information about where your water comes from.

2015 HAB Forecast

The forecast for HAB for this summer is for a moderate bloom. If this is the case, the problem should be greatly reduced. As with any prediction, it is subject to change. We are prepared to respond appropriately no matter the forecast.

Please be assured, that we at the District and all of our water treatment providers are concerned about your health and are doing everything that we can to keep your water safe.

In the unlikely event of a water crisis, we have contingency plans in place to ensure that you will have access to a safe water supply.

Stay tuned for updates as more information is available.