Alum Hits Grand Lake St. Marys

CELINA — Two barges, hundreds of loads from tanker trucks and 45-days are all key ingredients in a process aimed at locking up phosphorus in Grand Lake St. Marys to prevent algae blooms.

HAB Aquatic Solutions — the firm that handled last year’s application — started its lakewide alum application Monday from the west bank of Grand Lake St. Marys. John C. Holz, water quality specialist with HAB Aquatic Solutions, took state and local officials on a tour of the staging area as a barge refueled its tanks with alum.

“This is a big project — last year was the largest alum treatment ever completed in the world,” Holz said. “This year will be the new largest alum project ever completed in the world because we are slightly larger.”

More than 600 tanker trucks of product will be hauled in during the 45-day application window. The chemicals — alum and sodium aluminate — will be delivered by drivers every 30 minutes.

“That’s more chemical than the city of Chicago buys for its water treatment for a year,” Holz said. “This is a big project.”

The chemicals come from six different Ohio plants and two back-up facilities. Holz said the firms make the product, pump it into a tanker and ship it to Celina.

“It’s not even stored,” Holz said.

Six containers will house the alum and sodium aluminate before being pumped onto the barges. The dosing is two parts alum to one part sodium aluminate to make sure the lake’s pH levels stay in balance.

“We have two application vessels, which are identical,” Holz said. “One will come in and fill, we have them staggered, and then the second one will come in. A round trip takes about two hours, including fill time.”

Weather will play a key role in how soon the application is completed. Holz said crews did not lose an entire application day because of weather last year.

“We’ve factored that into our timeline and we are very confident we won’t have any problem meeting the 45-day period,” Holz said. “As a matter of fact, we are shooting to get done a lot sooner than that.”

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer touted the application.

“We have high expectations and we want to be very positive about the application,” Zehringer told The Evening Leader. “We hope the alum does a good job of binding up the phosphorus and that we will have a very safe, productive and recreational summer.”

Having HAB Aquatic Solutions return for this year’s application should help the process go smoothly, Zehringer noted.

“It’s very comforting,” Zehringer said.

“This is a very reputable company. You can see they are first-class, not only in their staging area but the way they do the application. We hope by doing the whole lake dosing application this year will just do a lot better job. We had pretty good results last year and we are hoping for better results this year.”

Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally said officials will monitor the process from the start of the application through the entire season. Last year’s data, he noted, will provide a baseline for which to compare this year’s results to determine the effectiveness of the treatment.

“We are going to look at total phosphorus loads,” Nally told The Evening Leader, noting officials will take samples throughout the week as a comparison.

“We got a lot of samples last year so we have a good base.”

Ideally, Nally said he would like to restore the lake to a condition where it can heal itself. That, he noted, will take time and cooperation.

In mid-March, state officials confirmed a lakewide application would take place in the spring in order to beat the heat of the summer months. Last year, several test projects pushed the application back to June — when hot temperatures fueled algae growth. The delay forced officials to scale back their plans for a lakewide application and concentrate their efforts on the middle 4,900 acres of Grand Lake St. Marys.

Last year’s application yielded positive results. The target goal was to get phosphorus reduction of 50 percent.

The treatment reached a reduction of 56 percent within the middle portion of the lake and the entire lake saw a reduction of 20 to 30 percent.