A new tool tests Lake Erie algae to protect drinking water

As the summer winds down, so does the Harmful Algal Bloom. And leaders with the University of Toledo say it was a productive season of testing new technology on Lake Erie.
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:00 PM EDT
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CURTICE, Ohio (WTVG) - Eighty million gallons of water are pumped in daily by the City of Toledo, so the Curtice shoreline is the first stop of your drinking water when it comes in from Lake Erie.

Now there’s new technology there to protect our drinking water from future algal blooms.

It’s the first time this instrument has been used at a water treatment plant in the US. In fact, the whole system was designed with Lake Erie in mind.

Dr. Thomas Bridgeman with the University of Toledo and Lake Erie Research Center told13abc, “There are algae sensors on buoys out on the lake, and there are sensors out on the intake, but this one is more refined. It gives you a much finer resolution of what kind of algae is there.”

It also tells researchers what the algae are doing.

“When the cells break open and release toxins into the water, the water treatment plant has to respond to that with additional chemical treatment. That kind of change can happen overnight,” Dr. Bridgeman explained.

That’s exactly what happened in 2014 when hours-long analysis made for a clunky testing process.

Jeff Martin was one of the City of Toledo staffers testing for microcystin when the Water Crisis happened eight years ago. Now, he’s the Chief Chemist for the City of Toledo Water Department.

Martin said this technology could have easily prevented the “Do Not Drink” order. “We would have known ahead of time before everything happened, that we needed to up treatment it would have been started long beforehand. We’d have known there was a problem before it reached the tap level. Long before.”

Dr. Bridgeman added that this system, still in the testing phase, tests the incoming water every 15 minutes. “It just gives water treatment plant operators so much more information, and so quickly that they can just respond, however, they need to, to whatever’s coming into the plant.”

The system was installed back in July. Three months in, and the readings are where Dr. Bridgeman expects them.

“It’s September,” he said. “It’s football season, trees are starting to turn, the days are getting shorter, and all of those things spell the end of the algal bloom in Lake Erie until next year.”

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