WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health and environment officials are recommending alternative ways for municipal water operators to treat toxic blue-green algal blooms that have troubled state lakes for nearly 10 years.
People and animals that come into contact with cyanobacteria algae might suffer diarrhea, headaches and other symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blooms have even killed small animals that drink the contaminated water.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has detected traces of toxins related to the blooms in at least five water treatment plants.
The department has suggested adding activated carbon to the water treatment process, the Kansas News Service reported. The carbon causes algae to fall to the bottom of ponds, allowing clean water to pass through.
But smaller water plant officials noted that adding carbon can also be more costly.
“Any time there’s an algae bloom out at the lake there’s potential for that to get into the plant and through town,” said Jamie Amlong, the water plant supervisor of Norton County. “We’re on pins and needles from the beginning of the bloom until two or three weeks after the bloom.”
Amlong noted the algae have bloomed on the county’s Keith Sebelius Lake since 2014, but didn’t really affect the city of Norton’s water until drifting into the plant’s intake pipes last year. Amlong added the entire plant was then forced to close as they drained and cleaned most of the tanks in an effort to safeguard the drinking water supply.
The department offers a program to subsidize water quality tests searching for toxins caused by cyanobacteria, officials said.
Twenty-three of the 72 water systems that get their water from the state’s rivers and lakes signed up for the program.
Robert Gavin, professional geologist of the department’s Public Water Supply section, said the program allows local water systems to avert polluted water instead of trying to reverse a problem.
Previously, state park officials would detect a bloom on a lake before alerting Kansas’ public water division, which would hasten to get tests out to those sites.
But bottles for raw water samples are now sent out weekly via the mail. If there’s ever a positive test result, additional bottles are sent to inspect the treated water.
“After a couple of years, this will probably be old hat. They’ll kind of just know what to do,” Gavin said. “But they’re all kind of learning right now.”