Winter 2017 eNewsletter

Featured Research: Forecasting the Future of Drinkable Water in Lake Erie

Satellite image of Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NOAA CoastWatch.

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 the harmful algal toxin microcystin. With more than 400,000 people lacking drinking water for 3 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 – low-oxygen, acidic water associated with periodic hypoxia. This water is usually discolored and may contain iron and manganese, requiring costly treatment to avoid undesirable taste and aesthetic problems when it 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 little time to prepare for changes in treatment.

Dr. Craig Stow (left, GLERL) and Dr. Mark Rowe (right, CILER) team up to develop a forecasting system to predict the location and movement of hypoxic water in Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of Michele Wensman.

A research team led by Drs. Mark Rowe (CILER) and Craig Stow (GLERL) is 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).

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