Algae toxins found in West Palm Beach’s water supply; could it happen here?

Neighbors lined up for safe drinking water in West Palm Beach after testing showed high levels of algae toxins.

Home filtration systems don’t work in this case, and you can’t just boil it out.

We wanted to know: Could this happen here?

In Lee County, almost all of our water treatment plants pull from groundwater, the aquifer. The situation unfolding on the East Coast comes from canal water entering a wetland preserve that feeds the city’s water supply.

“This is uncharted territory for not just the city, but also for the state,” said Poonam Kalkat, Ph.D., director of public utilities in West Palm Beach.

What’s so unusual? There are algae toxins in the City of West Palm Beach’s water supply. Now, city leaders are scrambling to fix the problem and, at the same time, pass out thousands of bottles of water to the 120,000 customers who are affected.

“We understand this as a concern of the public. We are on this 24/7,” said Mayor Keith James.

The city found toxins in its water supply in early May but is only getting the word out now. Drinking the water can cause an upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. Boiling tap water won’t destroy the toxins, according to the Florida Department of Health.

“I am told that the algal toxin is a result of environmental conditions and that there was nothing the public utilities department could have done to have prevented its development,” James said.

West Palm Beach’s main water source is the Grassy Waters Preserve, which is where the toxins are coming from.

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani said most places, including Fort Myers and Cape Coral, rely on the aquifer, or groundwater, for their water supply.

“Typically, we don’t find cyanobacteria in groundwater, but we may find or you may be able to detect cyanotoxins in groundwater, if the wells are shallow enough, so it is possible to find it, but it’s unusual.”

WINK News reached out to Lee County about the Olga water treatment plant, which does use water from the Caloosahatchee River. We were told it’s offline right now per normal operating procedures for annual maintenance.

In this case, Lee County Utilities uses its other plants.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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