In April 2005, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) received a $25,000 grant from Altria Group, Inc. to study the use of fluorometers for detecting taste- and odor-causing algae blooms in the Shenango Reservoir.
WPC’s partners in the project, dubbed “Shenango Algaewatch”, include Aqua Pennsylvania, Inc. (Sharon), Pennsylvania American Water Company (New Castle), and Greenville Water Authority.
The Importance of Early Detection
Algae blooms may lead to taste and odor problems due to the production of the chemical byproducts such as geosmin and methylisoborneol (MIB). Because the exact cause of the problem has not been pinpointed, water companies often do not know there is a problem until after drinking water has been affected. The main focus of the Algaewatch project has been to develop an early detection system through the installation of Turner Algaewatch fluorometers at three locations along the Shenango River: Greenville, Sharon, and New Castle. Fluorometers work by detecting chlorophyll a, a photosynthetic pigment in algae, through transmittance and absorbance of different wavelengths of light in a sample of water. Project partners hope that increased fluorescence readings will correlate with increased levels of MIB and geosmin, providing a low-cost indicator of when they should begin using special treatment filters and additives. The water companies have been collecting a steady stream of data since September 2005 and hope to know more about the success of the project by summer 2006.