WILKES-BARRE — For three days, an algae bloom rendered the Toledo, Ohio public water system unsafe for nearly a half million people. Could that happen in the Wyoming Valley?
No, said Susan Turmanovich, spokesperson for Pennsylvania American Water, the largest water provider in Pennsylvania.
In the Toledo area a large, blue/green algae bloom on Lake Erie — from which the public water is drawn — created a microsystin toxin that could cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. A drinking ban was lifted Monday.
Pennsylvania American Water has preventive measures in place to safeguard the quality of local drinking water. The water utility’s website states the filtration systems treats 193 million gallons of water daily. This combined with stormwater management practices, are designed to prevent a situation as Toledo faced.
In a statement, Pennsylvania American Water said the company “does not have any water systems impacted by the algae bloom in Lake Erie. Pennsylvania American Water consistently works to control algae blooms in the source waters for our surface water treatment plants. This includes providing treatment or other innovative measures to control blooms in raw water reservoirs.”
Brian Oram, geologist and manager of Keystone Clean Water Team, of Shavertown, said algae blooms form in surface water, such as lakes and ponds when phosphates levels are high.
Phosphates enter water through uncontrolled water runoff which can carry fertilizer, animal waste or poorly constructed or unmaintained sewer systems, he said.
An overabundance of nitrates, caused by water runoff, can spur the rapid growth of algae.
Algae will consume phosphates and nitrates and create a top cover of algae growth which blocks sunlight to reach plants and fish. This creates a risk to aquatic life as oxygen drop due to the overabundance of algae.
Still water with sunlight, such as a lake, resembles a “giant fish tank” providing a perfect habitat for the algae, Oram said.
“Moving water, such as rivers, flushes itself out and does not get algae blooms,” Oram said.
“Blooms in the streams and rivers from which we draw water are less of a concern as the water is flowing and the blooms cannot accumulate as easily. Where algae blooms or their taste and odor by products have been detected, Pennsylvania American Water has installed treatment to address these issues,” Turmanovich said.
Algae blooms have happened in area lakes before. Most notably was Harveys Lake’s battle against algae blooms during the 1980s.
About 15 to 20 years ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection implemented the Total Maximum Daily Load program which limits the amount of solids entering waterways. Storm water management practices including storm water filtration systems, plus consumer awareness about fertilizers help prevent algae causing pollutants from entering waterways, Oram said.