Businesses fight to save Lake Erie

Published: Sep. 27, 2017 at 5:53 PM EDT
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Last week the federal government (NOAA) awarded nearly three quarters of a million dollars to some names you know, like UT and Ohio State. But one of the winners might be an unfamiliar name. So we came to Ann Arbor to check out LimnoTech from the private sector.

“It’s got panels on three sides so it doesn't matter which way it spins,” Dr. John Bratton said. Bratton is a senior scientist at LimnoTech.

Ever notice all those buoys near Toledo’s Curtice drinking water intake? Many have special tools created and run by an Ann Arbor company.

“As long as the tops are clean, it's seeing what it needs to see,” Greg Cutrell said. He’s a meteorologist by training but does a lot of the buoy work at LimnoTech.

Their buoys have weather stations and look for special pigment called Phycocyanin, which helps out their public clients including Toledo.

“This gives them more reaction time, you know several hours delay between what's happening in the lake and what's happening at the plant,” Dr. Bratton said.

Green water isn't necessarily toxic and toxic water isn't necessarily green. Now LimnoTech is asking how they can forecast toxicity better.

“But when it's most likely to be producing toxins.”

Scientists aren’t sure why some cyanobacteria makes toxin and why some doesn't. Engineers are now looking for patterns in the weather to predict when the blooms will become dangerous.

“But you also have signs that are lower in the water at the Toledo crib and there reading almost no blue green algae,” Dr. Bratton said.

Which is good news since Toledo pulls water deeper down. But now changing weather could stop that.

“The past two weeks have been really interesting,” Cutrell said. “Given the long warm spell.”

LimnoTech works with schools and cities but also competes with them for funding its buoys and data.

“Every project we work on, unless we fund it ourselves, requires some type of a contract,” Dr. Bratton said.