The water quality of Lake Erie can present challenges for municipalities who draw water from Lake Erie. An NCCOS-funded project team of researchers at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) is working with public water managers in Ohio to help them continue to provide citizens with high quality drinking water. On June 26 in Cleveland, Ohio the team met with stakeholders from public water systems, the Ohio EPA, and others to preview the Experimental Lake Erie Hypoxia Forecast before it was launched publicly on July 16th. The Experimental Lake Erie Hypoxia Forecast is the first forecast of its kind in Lake Erie that predicts where and when low dissolved oxygen bottom water (hypoxia) may occur in Lake Erie, along with upwelling events that may move hypoxic water to nearshore areas.
This short-term forecast gives daily predictions of hypoxic events at the time scale of a typical weather forecast (5-10 days). The forecast was developed with input from public water system managers and operators, who explained that early treatment is essential during hypoxic water events. Hypoxic water may have low pH, which can corrode distribution pipes if not effectively treated, potentially introducing lead and copper into the water. Prolonged periods of hypoxia can also result in high levels of manganese in Lake Erie bottom water that turn treated water yellow and create taste and odor issues. With advance notice of hypoxic events from the Experimental Lake Erie Hypoxia Forecast, plant operators may conduct additional monitoring and treatment preparations to ensure the delivery of high quality drinking water during hypoxic events.
As an outcome of the project’s June 26th stakeholder meeting, the Ohio EPA is working with NOAA GLERL and CIGLR to conduct monitoring of manganese in Lake Erie bottom water. More information about levels of this naturally-occurring element in Lake Erie must be gathered before manganese predictions can be incorporated into the hypoxia forecast. Current US EPA guidelines for manganese in drinking water are for aesthetic purposes only, but this may change as manganese is currently under review for potential public health risks in light of a growing body of research on its neurotoxic effects. Given possible changes in regulatory standards, the hypoxia forecast is proving to be a useful and timely decision-support tool for drinking water plant operators.
Managers of Cleveland Water’s treatment plants have confirmed that the Experimental Lake Erie Hypoxia Forecast successfully predicted hypoxic events that developed from July 19th – 22nd and from September 11th to 13th. “This forecast shows that hypoxic events can be predicted, and that the predictions are definitely useful. I see this event as justification for the usefulness of the hypoxia forecast model,” said Scott Moegling, Water Quality Manager at Cleveland Water. The first of these two events caused a fish kill near Vermillion, Ohio, as reported in local news.