DLWID takes concerns over solar devices under review
The News Guard
June 17, 2009
A plea from lakefront property owners has led the Devils Lake Water Improvement District to re-examine the case for installing solar-powered water agitators aimed at tackling toxic cyanobacteria blooms.
A recent campaign spearheaded by lake resident Mitchell Moore has questioned whether the lake’s cyanobacteria problem is serious enough to warrant the district spending more than $1 million in savings, grants and loans on 20 SolarBee modules.
The modules would gently agitate the lake water, with the aim of denying cyanobacteria the calm conditions they require to breed.
Moore, a member of the DLWID’s budget committee, has also said the modules will affect lake views and could pose a safety risk to boaters.
He said the “vast majority” of lakefront property owners he has spoken to in recent weeks were unaware that the district is considering SolarBees as a solution.
The SolarBee proposal has received prominent coverage from both local newspapers throughout the past two years, with The News Guard’s most recent article being on the front page of its Feb. 18 edition.
Nevertheless, Moore said the “vast majority” of lakefront property owners that he has spoken to in recent weeks were oblivious to the proposal.
“The vast majority of homes on the lake are owned by people whose primary residence is elsewhere,” he said, “and they don’t subscribe to the paper. Nor do they routinely go to the water district’s Web site.”
The district’s Web site, http://www.dlwid.org, has a front-page link to a SolarBee information section and also contains the minutes of every monthly, public board meeting since January 2007.
DLWID Board Chair Brian Green said property owners could have found out about the SolarBee project “with a couple of clicks on a keyboard.”
“I think citizens have a duty to take some easy, active steps to inform themselves,” he said, adding: “This issue has been front and center with our board for a couple of years.”
Cyanobacteria thrive in nutrient-rich water and can produce various toxins including Microcystin, a liver toxin whose presence led Lake Manager Paul Robertson to warn against all water contact for much of last summer and fall.
The warning was in place from Aug. 13 to Nov. 3 after water samples revealed Microcystin levels in excess of the 8 parts per billion deemed safe by the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Moore pointed out that the World Health Organization has identified 20 parts per billion as a safe limit for Microcystin in recreational water, while some experts say 100.
At the height of last year’s bloom, from late September to early October, Microcystin levels topped 100 at several sample sites including Sand Point, Regatta Grounds and, most notably, Holmes Road Park, which at one point yielded a sample of more than 169 parts per billion.
“Our information is that the problem is worsening and that, by any standards, it’s been at dangerous levels at least for a few days during the summer,” Green said, adding that the board looked at many possible solutions before focusing on SolarBees.
“People just don’t understand that, of the maybe 30 solutions that we looked at, most of them appear to be less effective, and they all cost more,” he said.
After hearing concerns from about 50 residents at its June 4 budget hearing, the board voted to hold off on pursuing SolarBees until the district can gather more information about the severity of the lake’s cyanobacteria problem and about the safety record of SolarBees on other lakes.
Moore said he does not know of any accidents involving SolarBees but said that if boaters give the modules a 100- to 200-foot clearance, they could increase their chances of bumping into each other.
Green said there is no evidence that collisions have increased at any of the lakes that have installed SolarBees but said the district will gather information to see if the concern is warranted.
Moore, who has set up a Web site, http://nosolarbees.
wordpress.com, in opposition to the SolarBee proposal, is also concerned about the effect the modules will have on views.
The modules are 17 feet in diameter and resemble lunar landers, topped with a flashing light to warn boaters of their presence.
If the District decides to buy the modules, they would be anchored along the centerline of the lake at roughly quarter-mile intervals.
Moore, said he thinks all lakefront property owners will be able to see three or four of the modules but that the view from Sand Point, where he owns two homes, will be more significantly affected.
“I’ll see darn near every one of them,” he said.
Green said the recent surge in interest in the SolarBee proposal has convinced the board that it should hold a specially advertised public meeting prior to any decision to go ahead with the project.
He said the District’s newly formed communication committee, upon which Moore has agreed to serve, will be charged with finding innovative ways to inform the public about the process.
Green said everyone should keep an open mind about all the concerns that have been raised and allow firm data to drive the conversation.
“A lot of this has the feel of people having a pre-ordained conclusion that they don’t want SolarBees on the lake and coming up with arguments against them,” he said, adding: “I would urge everyone to draw back, take a deep breath and let’s just do some more investigation.”