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Cleveland buoys public trust in water

What may start as a ripple on Lake Erie can lead to a big splash in source water quality for Cleveland Water, which draws on the lake to provide drinking water for its 1.4 million customers. 

Cleveland Water smart buoyConditions change quickly and often across the vast water basin, which covers a surface area of 9,990 square miles and is the most shallow and warm of the Great Lakes. The varying conditions often require adjustments in drinking water treatment plans, which can be particularly difficult if quality issues such as hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen, commonly also having low pH and temperature), algae and cyanobacteria, or high levels of iron or manganese aren’t detected until they’re entering one of Cleveland Water’s four treatment plants. 

Fortunately, innovative technology is making it easier to track and quickly respond to water quality issues miles offshore. To monitor lake conditions and manage alterations in raw water quality, Cleveland Water is now receiving data from four solar-powered smart buoys anchored offshore across 17 miles. Three buoys (like one pictured above) are strategically located near all of the utility’s water treatment plants’ intake cribs and monitors lake water at various depths. The fourth buoy is located 15 miles offshore to monitor the Lake Erie Central Basin hypoxic zone.

Equipped with sensors and webcams, the buoys function as floating laboratories, providing real-time, targeted data around the clock and in all weather conditions on such parameters as water temperature, pH levels, turbidity, air pressure and dissolved oxygen. 
Scott Moegling
“The earlier you detect a problem the better, and the smart buoys provide us with three to eight hours of advance warning,” said Scott Moegling (pictured left), water quality manager at Cleveland Water. “Before we were able to monitor lake conditions to this extent, we only knew there was a problem when it was on top of us in the treatment plant and we had to scramble to change the treatment accordingly.”

The utility recently increased its smart buoy fleet to four after the original two were launched more than a decade ago. The buoys are deployed on Smart buoy being launched by boatthe lake each spring (pictured right) by LimnoTech, a water sciences and environmental engineering consultant, and docked for the winter once the lake begins to freeze.

Water data strengthens public trust

Heading into the recent Labor Day weekend, Cleveland Water knew several days in advance that there would be a problem with hypoxia in the central basin of Lake Erie. “We made sure staff was available, even during a long holiday weekend, and planned in advance for extra chemicals and labor to ensure our drinking water was properly treated,” Moegling said. “By vigilantly monitoring the smart buoys, we also knew when the problem was ending so we could plan any additional actions in the distribution system and also know when and how to communicate with our customers.”

Smart buoys at Cleveland WaterThe buoys collect data and send it to an online monitoring system, where it is reviewed by Cleveland Water staff. The information is also publicly accessible on websites and helpful to organizations such as the Cleveland Water Alliance and the Great Lakes Observing System, as well as fisheries and recreational boating companies.

“There is a lot of interest in this information, in part because recreational boating and fishing on Lake Erie are huge businesses,” Moegling said. “We’re happy and willing to share the data because the public knows we understand what our source water is doing. We relay that knowledge through our communication channels to convey our confidence in our water to our consumers.” (Pictured left, preparing smart buoys for launch on Lake Erie) 

Moegling added that consumer questions are a lot tougher than when he started his career nearly 30 years ago. “Consumers are better educated and informed, and we need to be able to answer their questions. We’re always watching so we can provide our best quality water.”

(Photos courtesy of Cleveland Water)