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Rest easy, Toledo says water supply is fine

No detectable levels of microcystin from Lake Erie algal bloom yet

Yes, algae’s forming in western Lake Erie.

And, yes, it’s coming earlier than normal and should be a larger-than-normal bloom because of all the rain we’ve gotten lately.

But chill out, Toledo.

Officials want to get out the word that the algal toxin known as microcystin — the one that triggered the 2014 Toledo water crisis — still has not shown up in detectable levels near the city’s water intake or its Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

The city remains confident it can fend off the threat.

RELATED CONTENT: City of Toledo drinking water dashboard

RELATED CONTENT: Microcystin tap level reports

That was the gist of yet another news conference held Tuesday in response to fears spreading across Facebook and other forms of social media.

Tuesday’s event featured U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, Chuck Campbell, the city’s commissioner of water treatment, and three Great Lakes scientists: Jeff Reutter, special adviser to Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory, Laura Johnson, a research scientist at Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research, and Tom Bridgeman, a University of Toledo associate professor who specializes in algae research.

Each said a recent forecast for a mild algae bloom in Lake Erie has been adjusted upward to a more serious one because of the near-record rainfall in June, though this year’s bloom still is not expected to be as severe as 2011’s outbreak.

No matter how you look at it, a lot of algae appears to be on its way.

The question is how much.

“We’re probably going to have a large bloom again this summer,” Mr. Bridgeman said, saying he has seen it forming during his recent trips out on the lake.

Officials encourage people to be wary of speculation and innuendo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other forms of social media.

Instead, they said, residents should visit the newly developed water-quality dashboard on the city of Toledo’s website ​for daily updates.

On that page is a link that takes viewers to test results.

The unusually heavy rain dousing this June, coupled with another series of storms pounding the region through the end of this week, has complicated that message, though.

It has changed the early season forecast for a relatively average-sized bloom this summer to one that is now expected to be worse than previously thought.

Jeff Reutter, the retired Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab director who now serves as a special adviser, said this summer’s bloom will likely be “significant,” but hr agreed the city’s far better prepared than it was a year ago.

“You should expect a pretty good-sized bloom out there,” he said.

Blooms usually peak between mid-August and late-September.

Miss Kaptur and Ms. Hicks-Hudson said the news conference was called in response to people worrying that the water system was already under stress after reading speculation on social media.

“The perception is their reality. We have to dispel that,” Mayor Hicks-Hudson said, asserting the city’s water is fine for now.

The city’s online test results support that claim, showing no detectable levels of the toxin yet.

The raw lake water is pretreated with potassium permanganate and other chemicals for hours before it arrives at the city’s low-service pump station and after it leaves it en route to the water plant, where it undergoes several more hours of treatment.

The city has four times the amount of chemicals it did last year to combat algal toxins, along with buoys and sensors providing operators more advance notice.

Data also is coming in from weekly flyovers across western Lake Erie by NASA, Mr. Bridgeman said.

“We’ve got eyes in the sky, as well,” he said.

Mr. Campbell, the city’s commissioner of water treatment, said anyone who suspects a problem with water quality should call the city’s hotline at 419-936-2020.

Anxiety is building because June’s rainfall was either a record or near-record, depending on the geography being analyzed.

Several speakers said they believe this June was the wettest on record, although National Weather Service records show it was only the fourth largest on record at Toledo Express Airport — the metro area’s preeminent monitoring station.

The amount of phosphorus that came down the Maumee River this June was second only to that of June, 1981, said Ms. Johnson of Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research.

Phosphorus is the main nutrient that grows algae; the level of its toxicity is largely influenced by nitrogen.

Both are common farm fertilizers. More than two-thirds of the lake’s phosphorus comes from farm runoff.

Miss Kaptur used the event to reiterate her call for better farming practices throughout the sprawling western Lake Erie watershed, which extends into northeast Indiana to Fort Wayne and into southern Michigan.

“That phosphorus doesn’t begin here [in Toledo],” she said. “It begins somewhere else and floats here.”

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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