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Algae concerns continue on Ohio River

WHEELING, W.Va. — Water service for customers of the Wheeling Water Company returned to normal on Sunday, but the threat to the system isn’t gone.

“The conservation order was lifted and water is being accepted from the Ohio River and being used in the water system,” said Howard Gamble, Administrator with the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. “That water is continuously being tested, but there are still issues with the Ohio River. Algae does not go away overnight.”

The blue-green algae bloom was noticed last week and forced a shutdown of the intakes at the water treatment plant.  Testing revealed the levels had dropped , but there was still a detection of algae behind the Pike Island Locks and Dam.  Gamble said unlike some algae, this one contained a toxin and while the levels had dropped enough to restart the intakes, there is still concern.

“Algae is still present and some of the organizations we worked with still detected levels behind the locks and dam,” he said.

Typically algae would move on downstream quickly, but that isn’t the case on the Ohio River because of the navigational controls.

“If you didn’t have a lock and dam system it would,” he said. “That bloom,. whether it’s oil or algae, will gather behind a lock and dam and slowly move through.  As it moves through it’s churned up.”

The health department, water department, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to monitor the river for any sign of a spike in the algae levels.  Gamble said fortunately there is already a strong network in place to warn of potential contaminants before the arrive at the water plant.

“The Corps of Engineers and other folks visually see the river and what’s on there and we get calls regularly,” he said. “For everything from an unusual slick, spill, even our partners further upstream will call when they notice something.  The communication is there that if it has to be turned off it can be done quickly.”

As for the cause of the bloom, Gamble said there’s no single source point.  He said their best estimate is a series of severe downpours likely caused excessive runoff from many areas streams where fertilizer and other nitrates were present all of which wound up in the river and created the right conditions for the algae to form.





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