The U.S. Geological Survey is monitoring toxic levels of blue-green algae as water released from Milford Lake moves downstream along the Kansas River.
On Aug. 31, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released water from the bulging Milford Lake reservoir, which had been plagued by dangerous levels of blue-green algae toxins for much of the summer. Two days later, USGS began testing water at 14 different sites along the Kansas River for the algae, known scientifically as cyanobacteria.
At that point, water released from Milford Lake hadn’t made it past the Wamego and Belvue area, said Jennifer Graham, a research hydrologist with the USGS who has studied blue-green algae across the country. But the preliminary data showed that the toxins — and taste and odor problems — prevalent on Milford Lake were being transported downstream.
Graham said that by early Tuesday, the peak flow from Milford Lake had likely reached Kansas City. The USGS took more water samples Thursday and will have those results by next Tuesday.
Some Lawrence residents noticed a change in their water quality shortly after the Milford Lake water was believed to have passed through Lawrence.
Among them was Sarah Scoular, who on Tuesday evening was making a protein shake when she smelled that earthy, musky smell that was so common in the city’s water supply late last summer.
“I was pouring water into blender and I smelled dirt,” Scoular said. “I said it’s happening again. It is a very distinct dirt smell.”
That musky taste hasn’t left, Scoular said.
The taste and odor isn’t currently as bad as last year, and Scoular said she believes she is more sensitive to it than most people.
Jeanette Klamm, projects manager for the city of Lawrence utilities department, said Thursday that city officials haven’t heard any complaints from water customers about taste and odor problems.
While the city does test daily for water quality issues caused by algae, it doesn’t test for toxic cyanobacteria. The algae isn’t always toxic, but at certain levels it can be deadly to humans and animals.
Even if there were high levels, Klamm said, the toxins are filtered out at the water treatment plant.
“Because they were detecting cyanobacteria toxins in the reservoir water coming into the Kansas River doesn’t necessarily mean they are making it past our treatment process,” Klamm said. “There isn’t any indication that our treatment process isn’t removing them.”
Lawrence, along with the Topeka water department and WaterOne, which supplies water to Johnson County, have met with the USGS to talk about high cyanobacteria levels.
“They are looking at their drinking water and making changes to the treatment process,” Graham said.