Great Lakes Region

Back in 2014, the City of Toledo, Ohio, issued a “do not drink” advisory when treated drinking water drawn from Lake Erie contained unsafe levels of a toxin called microcystin, produced by a bloom of harmful blue-green algae. With more than 400,000 people without drinking water for three days, the incident was reported worldwide and placed a spotlight on Lake Erie algal blooms as a threat to drinking water quality. However, a less-recognized threat is also looming – hypoxia, or water containing low levels of oxygen. Hypoxic water is usually acidic, discolored, and may contain iron and manganese. Costly treatment is needed to avoid undesirable taste and aesthetic problems when hypoxic water enters drinking water intakes. Hypoxia events are typically triggered by changes in weather and hydrodynamics (i.e., lake temperature and circulation) and therefore can occur quickly, leaving drinking water managers without time to prepare for changes in treatment.

This is an aerial satellite photo showing the green algal bloom on Lake Erie.

Satellite image of Lake Erie bloom. Photo credit: CILER.

To help public drinking water managers prepare for hypoxia events, a research team led by Drs. Mark Rowe (CIGLR) and Craig Stow (GLERL) are developing a forecasting system to predict the location and movement of hypoxic water in Lake Erie. This system will give advance warning when conditions are likely to promote hypoxic water movement into the vicinity of drinking water intakes, providing drinking water managers time to prepare for changes in water quality and implement appropriate treatment processes. The forecast system will be supported by in-lake monitoring sensors to measure oxygen concentrations and give an unprecedented view of the complex lake dynamics that control the development and movement of hypoxic lake bottom water.

About the Project

This 5-year project is in collaboration with the City of Cleveland Division of Water, Purdue University, and U. S. Geological Survey, with guidance from a management advisory group including representatives from Ohio public water systems, Ohio EPA, Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS), and NOAA. The work is supported by a $1.4 million award from the NOAA National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science (NCCOS) Coastal Hypoxia Research Program (CHRP).

Contact Mary Ogdahl, CIGLR Program Manager, for more information: ogdahlm@umich.edu

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