CLEVELAND, Ohio -- More than one million people rely on Lake Erie for clean drinking water, but there's new concern that toxic dirt on the bottom of the lake could potentially threaten Cleveland's drinking water supply.
Ohio Environmental Agency testing last fall revealed highly toxic sediment moving closer to one of four Cleveland water intakes in Lake Erie. The intake supplies the Nottingham Water Treatment Plant, which serves northeast portions of Cuyahoga County, officials said. The Cleveland Division of Water maintains its drinking water is safe and no one is currently at risk, but it’s increasing testing to monitor conditions.
“In and of itself, it is highly toxic,” Cleveland Water quality manager Scott Moegling said of the sediment. “But the water is safe; all of our monitoring to date has shown there is nothing of concern.”
The sludge material was dredged from the Cuyahoga River before the 1970s and dumped about nine miles off-shore of the city's east side, Moegling said. Two square miles of sediment on the bottom of the lake is highly contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and is part of a larger area with elevated levels of contamination, according to the Ohio EPA.
Officials said it is unclear how far the sediment has moved and how quickly it is moving.
There has been extensive correspondence between the Ohio EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the issue. Last week, Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler sent Brigadier General Richard Kaiser a letter seeking high level discussions after sampling data “clearly shows the ability of these sediments to migrate and further shows the sediment migrating in the direction of the water intake.”
A spokesperson for the Army Corps said it plans to discuss the concerns with the Ohio EPA but he said he could not release any plans for addressing the problem.
The Ohio EPA and Cleveland Water have now stepped up monitoring of the sediment and testing of water in the area. Cleveland Water officials said they began monthly testing of the raw water and treated water associated with the intake in March. If needed, the Cleveland Water officials said the department can treat the water with additional chemicals that are currently used in order to keep it safe.
“As long as we stay vigilant and do what we need to do, our water will always be clean,” Cleveland Water commissioner Alex Margevicius said. “This material is treatable. It’s a concern, but if the scenario comes up, we will deal with it.”
This comes amid debate over open-water dumping of dredged material in Lake Erie, which Cleveland Water officials oppose.
“The better the raw water quality is, the better the treated water is to our customers. This is a regional issue. It's bigger than just Cleveland Water; it has to do with the overall health of Lake Erie, and this is something that is of vital interest to all of us in Northeast Ohio,” Moegling said.
**Watch the press conference in the video above**