Cleveland — No evidence of the toxin that caused Toledo to warn 400,000 people not to drink or wash with tap water has been found in Greater Cleveland’s water supply, which services 1.4 million people, a top official from the Cleveland Division of Water says.
In the wake of the Toledo crisis, Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald held a summit Aug. 11 to allow experts and officials to report about what has been occurring in Lake Erie’s central basin.
Experts say one of Greater Cleveland’s advantages over Toledo and the lake’s western basin is the lack of nearby farms. During heavy rains, fertilizers quickly wash off the surface of farm land and seep into rivers and streams that feed Lake Erie. Phosphorous in fertilizers were seen as a primary source for the dissolved phosphorous that caused toxic blue-green algal blooms and Toledo’s water crisis. Those blooms are not expected to peak until next month.
Not all blue-green algae are toxic. But certain types allow poisonous bacteria called microcystins to thrive. Microcystins have a number of harmful effects on humans and animals, including rashes, severe nausea, gastrointestinal problems and even liver damage.
The central basin has its own phosphorous problems from wastewater treatment plants, rain-driven overflows from combined sanitary and storm sewers and the runoff from the heavily paved surfaces of urban areas, officials said. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District removes 86 percent of the phosphorous from waste at its sewage treatment plant, but that means 190 tons a year wind up in Lake Erie, said the agency’s executive director, Julius Ciaccia.
Alex Margevicius, interim commissioner for the Cleveland Division of Water, said no microcystins have been detected in Lake Erie’s central basin. Cleveland must treat for other types of algae when the lake warms, such as those that cause taste and odor problems in tap water.
“But I can’t say it couldn’t happen here,” Margevicius said, referring to toxic water problems such as Toledo’s.
Cleveland’s four water intakes from the lake give it a big advantage over Toledo, which has just one, said Margevicius, who complained along with others about the lack of regulation about microcystins at the state and federal levels.
Satellite monitoring of Lake Erie and algal blooms is being bolstered by flights originating from the NASA Glenn Research Center outside Cleveland. The planes are able to provide sharper images of blooms and, unlike satellites, can photograph blooms on overcast days by flying below the cloud deck.
Lake County commissioner Dan Troy said there needs to be a political solution to once again address the health of Lake Erie. He said that will mean further measures to limit the amount of phosphorous that gets into the lake. Toledo’s water crisis should be a wake-up call, he said.
“We need to stop telling people what they want to hear and start telling them what they need to hear,” Troy said.