Water Company Preparing For Toxic Algae On Ohio River

Charleston Gazette
3 September 2015
By Ken Ward Jr., Environment Reporter

West Virginia American Water Co. on Thursday began running new pipelines to use the Guyandotte River as a temporary water supply for its Huntington drinking water plant in response to continuing concerns about a potentially toxic algae bloom on the Ohio River, officials said.

West Virginia American said it began work on the project -- which involves large, raw water lines that will run about 3,000 to 4,000 feet -- after receiving test results that indicated “elevated levels” of microcystin, a toxin that can be produced by the type of blue-green algae that’s been spotted on the Ohio.

In a press release, West Virginia American said that current levels “do not present an immediate risk” to the drinking water system, but that “forecasted weather may cause algal blooms to increase and require additional response actions.”

“West Virginia American Water initiated this contingency plan today after reviewing testing results and considering the time required to construct a temporary alternate intake,” said company President Jeff McIntyre.

“We have great confidence in our treatment plant’s capabilities and ultimately may not need to use this backup source,” McIntyre said. “However, after all of the factors, we feel the best decision is to take extra precaution for the protection of our customers in the event that the blooms worsen.”

The Huntington treatment and distribution plant serves more than 39,000 customers and also sells water to the communities of Lavalette and to Chesapeake, Ohio.

West Virginia American’s announcement is the latest in a series of responses to the Ohio River situation since the blue-green algae was first discovered two weeks ago just on the upriver side of the Pike Island Locks and Dam, about two miles upstream from the drinking water intake for Wheeling.

Blue-green algae usually grow in lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams when the water is warm and polluted with an excess of nutrients, such as phosphorous or nitrogen. Algae blooms can be related to fertilizer runoff, sewage overflows and other pollution issues, but the exact cause of this incident has not yet been determined.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency posted an interactive map showing algae test results, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection added a link to that map to its website.

Laura Jordan, a spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, said that the highest result from the company’s own testing of raw water at its Huntington intake was 1.7 parts per billion. That compares to a U.S. Environmental Protection health advisory of 1.6 parts per billion for the general public, and 0.3 parts per billion for children 6 years and younger for drinking water.

The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, which regulates drinking water utilities, said only that it is continuing to monitor the situation with other agencies and has provided information about blue-green algae to local health departments and water systems.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.