West Palm residents say city should have warned them about water problems sooner

Posted 6/25/21

WEST PALM BEACH – The harmful algae bloom (HAB) in the Grassy Waters Preserve was on the minds of many of those who attended the at the June 23 meeting of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force

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West Palm residents say city should have warned them about water problems sooner


WEST PALM BEACH – The harmful algae bloom (HAB) in the Grassy Waters Preserve was on the minds of many of those who attended the at the June 23 meeting of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force at the South Florida Water Managers Headquarters in West Palm Beach.

Residents complained the city should have let them know there was a problem with the water sooner.

The City of West Palm Beach first learned of cylindrospermopsin toxins at low levels from a May 3 test of the drinking water by the utility. According to information shared by the Florida Department of Health, eight samples collected from May 17 to May 26 contained cylindrospermopsin and four of those samples exceeded the Health Advisory Level for toxins established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A health advisory was issued May 28, 2021. It was not lifted until June 2, 2021.

“I’m the one that’s having the problems,” said West Palm Beach resident Nancy Gregory. “I didn’t know what was happening on the 28th.”

She said she used tap water all day. “I go down in the afternoon on Saturday and all these people are telling me about the water being bad, don’t use the tap water,” she said.

“In the middle of the night, I got sick and I started vomiting and this is my 25th day and I’m still feeling bad,” she said. “I went to two different hospitals, made three visits.

“In our building, I talked to four different people. A man had been sick all day, just from a cup of coffee,” she said.

About Grassy Waters ...
Grassy Waters Preserve is a 23 square-mile pristine freshwater remnant of the Everglades, which is used as the water supply for the City of West Palm Beach and the towns of Palm Beach and South Palm Beach.

According to Palm Beach History Online, in the mid 1930s, it was determined the water supply could not keep up with Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. Around 1934, a decision was made to build a canal from Lake Mangonia to the Water Catchment Area and drain part of the Loxahatchee Slough as a means to provide additional water to the lakes. This canal was completed and is still in use today as part of the M Canal.

During the dry season, the city relies on some water supply from Lake Okeechobee. According to the SFWMD “Canals in South Florida” technical support document, the L-8 canal drains an area of 171 square miles in Palm Beach and Martin counties. The canal connects Lake Okeechobee to Water Conservation Area 1 (WCA-1). Near its southern end, L-8 intersects the West Palm Beach Canal. Excess water can be discharged from the L-8 basin in one of three ways: to Lake Okeechobee; to tidewater; and to WCA-1. The L-8 borrow canal can also be used to transfer water from storage in WCA-1 to storage in Lake Okeechobee. Water is supplied to the city of West Palm Beach municipal water supply system from the L-8 basin by way of a city owned and operated pump station located at the junction of the L-8 Tieback Levee borrow canal and the City of West Palm Beach’s M canal. A spillway adjacent to this pump station discharges excess water from the M canal to the L-8 basin.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) stopped flow from the L-8 to the M Canal in April after algae blooms were seen in the L-8 canal. Florida Department of Environmental Protection testing found those blooms were mixed algae with no dominant taxon.

At the June 10, 2021 SFWMD Governing Board Meeting meeting, SFWMD staff reported no cylindrospermopsin has been found in Lake Okeechobee in the past year. The previous year, low levels of cylindrospermopsin were found in two samples of lake water. Those levels were below the amount deemed safe for drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency. According to SFWMD staff, the cyanobacteria capable of producing cylindrospermopsin are not commonly found in the lake now, but were more common in the lake 20 years ago. The West Palm Beach utility water testing found the toxin, but the toxin tests do not show which species of cyanobacteria produced the toxin. More than one species of cynaobacteria are capable of producing cylindrospermopsin.

The cyanobacteria that produce cylindrospermopsin are nitrogen “fixers” which can use nitrogen from the air if no nitrogen is available in the water. The cyanobacteria species currently dominant in most blooms on Lake Okeechobee is Microcystis aeruginosa, which is not a nitrogen fixer. Microcystis aeruginosa is capable of managing its buoyancy by inflating or deflating gas vesicles. The cyanobacteria capable of producing cylindrospermopsin are found in the water column rather than floating on the surface.

“In an average year, the city receives 50% of its water supply from Lake Okeechobee and the L-8 basin,” City of West Palm Beach Assistant City Administrator Armando Fana explained. The utility serves 120,000 customers.

The city is reaching out to experts who will be assisting the city in evaluating the operation of the city’s system and the regional system, he said.

Colors at Sunset
Colors at Sunset

water, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, blooms