Newton County’s two drinking-water reservoirs, Lake Varner and City Pond, are getting a helping hand from the sun in the battle to keep them as healthy and clean as possible.
The county recently installed solar-powered reservoir circulators, called SolarBees and produced by Medora Corp., at both reservoirs to continually circulate the water in an effort to prevent proliferation of harmful algae, some of which — like particularly noxious blue-green algae — are actually bacteria.
When algae become too prevalent, they can cause a lake to become unhealthy by killing fish and other “useful” plants and causing water to smell and taste unpleasant, according to various higher education and state department of natural resources websites.
“The SolarBees have been installed as a ‘green’ technology to help control algae blooms that cause foul tastes and odors in the drinking water. They do this by circulating water from all depths of the lake to increase dissolved oxygen levels in the entire water column,” said Jason Nord, director of Newton County Water Resources, who oversees the reservoirs. “They also better the overall health and water quality of the lake itself, which in turn helps the whole aquatic ecosystem (better fishing).”
The solar-powered circulators were paid for with an $810,986 loan from the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency, which the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved applying for last fall.
The other benefit of the circulators is that they’ll allow the county to save on chemical costs, Nord said.
“We currently use a combination of chemicals to control tastes and odors in the lake and drinking water. Over the past few years, we have experienced wide fluctuations and drastic increases in chemical costs. Water treatment chemical costs are very closely tied to the costs of the petroleum industry. The SolarBees will help stabilize our future chemical costs,” he said.
Nord could not be reached late last week for information about how much he hopes the water circulators will save in chemical costs and how many circulators were installed.
Why blue-green algae are harmful
Nord said the circulators will help increase the reservoirs’ levels of dissolved oxygen — oxygen present in water that is required by fish, shellfish and plants to live — which can be reduced by excessive blue-green algae levels in a variety of ways.
Blue-green algae growth often is spurred by excess levels of phosphorus or nitrogen, which often is contained in runoff from industries, agriculture and even homes. Excessive algae blooms — where algae covers the surface of a body of water — are forming more frequently around the world, according to environmental experts.
These blooms block sunlight from getting to actual green algae, which are part of the food chain; blue-green algae are undesirable to eat for most types of zooplankton — microscopic organisms that are a chief source of food for small fish.
Normally, the zooplankton eat the green algae, are then eaten by small fish, which are then eaten by larger fish to complete water’s cycle of life. The blue-green algae interrupt the cycle.
In addition, while algae produce oxygen, they also use up oxygen when they’re no longer growing — at night when they’re no longer photosynthesizing.
These blooms eventually deplete the nutrient supply that keeps them alive and die. As they die, they sink and decompose, a process that also uses up the oxygen in the surrounding water. Therefore, when a large amount of algae die at once, they can deplete oxygen in water, killing fish and other organisms.
Blue-green algae can also release toxins that are harmful to animals and humans; however, the algae do not always produce such toxins and scientists are still unsure as to why.
And, they can grow on the leaves of the non-native, fast-growing aquatic weed, hydrilla, which has been a nuisance in Lake Varner for years. When birds eat hydrilla — which is not naturally toxic — with blue-green algae on it, they can contract a neurological disease that kills them.
Green algae can also form blooms, which can cause the problem of depleting oxygen levels, but don’t have as many associated issues.
County officials hope the circulators will minimize these problems and keep City Pond and Lake Varner healthy and vibrant.