Scientists to dye river, lake in pollution experiment
Written by Grand Haven Tribune   
Tuesday, 17 April 2007 17:27

Scientists will be turning the Grand Haven channel red this summer.  Dr. Michael McCormick, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), informed Grand Haven City Council on Monday of his department's plans to pour rhodamine-WT dye into the Grand River near the U.S. 31 drawbridge on June 6 and again on July 18.

The tracer study is similar to a Michigan State University research project in Grand Rapids last summer, which caught people and the media off-guard when the Grand River suddenly turned red. McCormick said the upcoming project in Grand Haven will be different in that they will periodically pour dye over about a four-hour period, while the dye was poured all at once in the Grand Rapids experiment.
"So within five hours, we shouldn't see any dye," he said.

In addition, the scientists plan to alert the authorities prior to the experiment, something that wasn't fully done in Grand Rapids in May 2006.

McCormick assured council that the nontoxic dye poses no harm to fish, animals or the area's drinking water, nor will it stain the bottom of boats. He said the planned dye concentration in the water will be 10 parts per billion, which he said is "barely detectable to the eye."

The experiment's goal is to better understand the movement and influence of wind, waves and water currents on contaminants and their interaction with the coastal water circulation of Lake Michigan. The scientists will collect data at nine points in the lake. Most of the lake locations are near the shore on either side of the Grand Haven pier, but there is one collection point about 2 miles offshore.

"The ultimate goal of this field study is to develop useful tools to forecast potentially harmful conditions in the coastal waters and beaches in order to assist decisionmakers with informing the public in a timely manner to reduce water-related human health risks," the NOAA scientists explained in a handout to council. "... Results from these studies will aid in constructing, testing and refining models that deal with the transport and fate of contaminants. Models will allow us to look at how, how much and when pollution that enters the rivers affects public beaches."

The release dates are tentative and may be changed due to inclement weather, McCormick said.

The project is a partnership between NOAA's Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health, Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and the Georgia Institute of Oceanography.

NOAA and MSU researchers teamed up in June 2006 for a project that released sulfur hexafluoride, a nontoxic odorless gas, into the Grand River east of the drawbridge to model the flow of pollution, water temperatures and wave actions down the channel.
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