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West Palm Beach announces new panel on blue-green algae

Announcement comes after May 28 water advisory
Posted at 10:35 AM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 18:24:52-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The city of West Palm Beach shared details on a new panel formed following a water advisory last month caused by toxic algae.

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Mayor Keith James made the announcement during a Friday morning news conference, saying the city has assembled a panel of water quality experts that will provide advice on public utility operations.

The city said the independent panel will help guide their response to potential, future blue-green algae blooms.

"The city of West Palm Beach desires to implement a proactive, robust algae monitoring and action strategy to ensure effective control of potential risks associated with algae-related issues," James said.

MORE: Florida Department of Health issues warning letter to West Palm Beach

James revealed at the news conference the objectives and names of the panelists, which include members of consulting firms and research experts in water quality.

Mayor Keith James announces new panel on blue-green algae

Among the experts are also officials from the city of Salem, Oregon, which experienced a similar algae bloom in 2018.

He said the panel is expected to analyze issues, conduct reviews and make both short-term and long-term recommendations to James and his administration.

"They are to develop future monitoring response programs and actions in the event of a detected cyanobacteria event," James said. "They are to establish monitoring response programs to satisfy public concerns and illicit potential treatment changes at the water treatment plant to control potential future elevated cyanotoxin levels in the source water."

The water advisory was put in place May 28 after test results showed the presence of the toxin cylindrospermosin.

The advisory, which impacted children and the elderly, wasn't lifted until almost a week later.

James said the experts will also conduct a review of the city's detection and response to the cylindrospermosin event.

West Palm Beach public utility director Poonam Kalkat speaks at announcement of toxic algae panel on June 25, 2021
West Palm Beach public utility director Poonam Kalkat speaks at the announcement of a toxic algae panel on June 25, 2021.

"This panel was in addition to and separate from a review of our internal management processes," James said.

The mayor first announced the formation of the panel on June 4 after the water advisory was rescinded.

One of the questions surrounds the West Palm Beach utility department using surface water for its drinking supply while other utilities use underground sources.

Public utility director Poonam Kalkat said this will be looked at by the expert panel, who will talk to regulatory agencies, about how the city sources its drinking water.

"The water is allocated ... through South Florida Water Management District," Kalkat said. "It's not something that we can do on our own. We would have to talk to the water district, and see if that was even a possibility."

James also addressed a warning letter sent to the city by the Florida Department of Health this week that said West Palm Beach erred last month when it took nine days to tell state officials it had dangerous levels of toxins.

"We believe that the city's actions have been consistent with all applicable rules and statutes," James said. "We look forward to meeting with the Florida Department of Health to try to better understand their concerns and to present our case."

He wanted to reassure West Palm Beach residents that their drinking water is safe.

"We are testing the water regularly, and in fact, we have stepped up our testing," James said. "We are sampling, analyzing, monitoring and reporting beyond what is required in the regulations."

Below is the full list of members and support team staff on the city's panel:

  • Bob Cushing, PhD, PE, BCEE of Carollo Engineers – Cushing is a nationally recognized expert in water quality and treatment. He served on West Palm Beach's 2015 water treatment alternatives panel of experts. The city said Cushing is serving with assistance from the following members:

* Lyle Munce, PE – Munce has more than 30 years of experience with water quality and treatment in South Florida including West Palm Beach and regional water resources.
* Tom Gillogly, PhD, PE - Gillogly is Carollo's Chief Water Process Engineer
* Grounds, PE – Grounds was lead engineer in support of the Salem, Oregon algal toxin event.

  • William Becker, PhD, PE, BCEE vice president (Hazen and Sawyer) - Becker is vice president and the Corporate Drinking Water Practice Leader at Hazen. He directs the firm’s drinking water practice, which focuses on helping utilities solve water quality and treatment challenges. Becker is also a Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he teaches water treatment classes. He is affiliated with the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University. Dr. Becker has authored more than 300 technical presentations and publications, has directed several Water Research Foundation projects, and serves as the Deputy Editor for AWWA Water Science. He was appointed to the EPA Science Advisory Board Drinking Water Committee.
  • Erik Rosenfeldt, PhD, PE Associate Vice President (Hazen and Sawyer) - Rosenfeldt’s work has focused on drinking water and reuse technology, evaluating, implementing, and optimizing conventional and advanced treatment processes for a variety of water quality concerns, including emerging contaminants such as EDCs, PPCPs, taste and odor and algal toxins, groundwater pollutants, as well as conventional and emerging DBPs. Rosenfeldt is Hazen’s Director of Drinking Water Process Technology, and a senior member of the firm’s drinking water process and applied research groups.
  • Chandra Mysore, PhD, PE, BCCE Vice President and Regional Lead (Jacobs Engineers) – Mysore has more than 30 years of experience in source water quality, water treatment and water quality in the distribution system. As technical advisor, he has provided technical direction and senior-level review on several large projects around the globe addressing source water quality (e.g. harmful algal blooms). He served on the City of West Palm Beach’s 2015 water treatment alternatives panel of experts. Mysore is serving with assistance from: * Rafael Vazquez-Burney, PE – Technologist specializing in Natural Treatment Systems. * David Austin, PE – Professional engineer in the state of Minnesota and a limnologist. He has served as a water quality expert in multiple reservoir management and lake restoration projects