Algae Problems Continue on Ohio River

Water safe to drink, but use conservatively

Wheeling Intelligencer
22 August 2015
By Joselyn King, Staff Writer

WHEELING - Wheeling's water is safe to drink, but all Ohio County residents should refrain from unnecessary water use as blue-green algae continues to be an issue near water system intakes on the Ohio River.

A water conservation order is in effect for the entire county as the city of Wheeling feeds other water systems throughout Ohio County, said Howard Gamble, administrator for the Ohio County Health Department.

None of the contaminated river water is running into Wheeling's water supply. The city has turned off its water intakes on the river, and the water system is currently operating on its wells - which account for about 60 percent of daily water production.

The health department also is asking that you not do open burning of trash or yard debris," Gamble said. "The city will not be issuing permits. ... If there is a large fire, you have to use an abundance of water to fight it. If we can limit the risk, it helps out a lot."

People should not swim in the Ohio River until the algae has passed by - and they also shouldn't drink the water directly from the river, according to Gamble.

It is believed the heavy rainstorms early Tuesday morning contributed to the formation of the blooms. Water testing on Wednesday at the Pike Island Lock and Dam indicated elevated levels of blue-green algae on the river. The algae, at high concentrations, can cause health problems such as skin irritation, eye irritation or intestinal illnesses.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission conducted testing at the Pike Island Lock and Dam on Friday, and determined blue-green algae blooms - also called cyanobacteria - still were present on the river.

While barges help to break them up, what is needed is a softer, steady rain to clean them from the river, Gamble said.

"The algae is a difficult thing to work with," he said. "The best thing is for it to move downstream and begin to work itself out of the river."

There are no chemicals available to treat the algae.

Lori Siburt, manager of Wheeling's water plant, said Friday's samples indicated while the algae was still present in the river, it is now in a less concentrated form. She also said the water system can continue to supply the area on just water from its wells for an extended time depending on demand.

"I don't feel it's anything big to be concerned about," she said. "I think everything will be fine. The big thing is that there should be no people swimming in the river. And hopefully, nobody is drinking the river water.

"For now, Wheeling is doing its best to monitor and put out safe drinking water."