Monitoring for Taste and Odor Algae with the FlowCam

The FlowCam offers superior measurement of algae species and functions as an early warning system for field operators.

FlowCam provides an easy method to be proactive, and enables more consistent monitoring. As a result, we have more confidence in water quality.

Sherry Williams, Water Quality Control Supervisor, Newport News Waterworks

Operated and owned by the City of Newport News in Virginia, Newport News Waterworks is a regional water provider. The organization operates and owns five reservoirs and over 12,000 acres of watershed property while serving more than 400,000 people.

The Challenge

Manual microscopy techniques were used by Newport News in the past to analyze the water in its terminal reservoirs. A rise in algal populations, particularly in the summer months, led to a decrease in filter run times and increased the possibility of taste and odor issues. These manually-run investigations were subjective.

Newport News was searching for a technique that would offer quantifiable and analytical results for its water examinations. They also wanted a method that allowed them to see data trends in order to be more proactive in correcting possible blooms.

Newport News found the solution with the FlowCam flow imaging microscope. The operations teams were able to implement process changes within the waterworks treatment plants with the higher quality data, and further data was used to enhance raw water pumping strategies.

From Manual Microscopy to Instant Results

An employee at Newport News monitored algae with a standard microscope prior to adopting the FlowCam. Once or twice a week, the employee tested raw water at the terminal reservoir.

The organization realized that the knowledge of algae classification was outdated and it would be too time consuming and labor-intensive to continue to perform manual investigations.

After adopting the FlowCam, the team investigated all reservoirs and the bodies of water that feed them on a more regular schedule, with up to seven or eight samples being tested each week throughout the hotter summer months.

Being able to track and trend algae species, turbidity and pH has allowed us to track conditions that may precipitate a bloom, providing better insight of what goes on in the reservoir.

Sherry Williams, Water Quality Control Supervisor

The FlowCam made the investigation of algae more accessible for employees. ”Even ignoring that it’s simpler to run a sample through the FlowCam vs. pulling out the microscope, the FlowCam provides large, high-quality images of the particles I am interested in, which lets me go through some books and try to identify the organism at my own pace,” explained Anna Maria Miller, Laboratory Analyst.

The concentration of algae (particles/mL) can also be calculated by the FlowCam. This is the standard number that Newport News employs for its regular monitoring process.

FlowCam changed the monitoring process by creating a quicker turn-around time. I can run a sample within a few minutes of it arriving. Then, if necessary, I can just give someone a quick call and say ‘it doesn’t look great’ before going through the classification process,” added Anna Maria Miller.

Lyngbya, the cyanobacteria responsible for the taste and odor episode at Newport News Waterworks. PC: Newport News Waterworks.

Lyngbya, the cyanobacteria responsible for the taste and odor episode at Newport News Waterworks. PC: Newport News Waterworks. Image Credit: Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

Anabaenopsis, one type of cyanobacteria responsible for blooms at the Newport News reservoirs.

Anabaena, one type of cyanobacteria responsible for blooms at the Newport News reservoirs. Image Credit: Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

Changing How and When to Treat for Blooms

Time is of the essence when an impending bloom is detected. The ability to treat a reservoir instantly, rather than waiting a day, can influence the quantity of copper sulfate required to alleviate the bloom.

The FlowCam has facilitated a more proactive approach to the use of algaecides by offering trackable metrics and efficient analysis of algae populations.

New FlowCam to Monitor Cyanobacteria

At present, Newport News is focusing its improvements in water quality monitoring on cyanobacteria. A new FlowCam Cyano was recently swapped with the organization’s original FlowCam VS. This instrument is supplied with optical filters and a red laser that enable the instrument to differentiate cyanobacteria from other algae, through the detection of phycocyanin and chlorophyll pigment.

Depending on image analysis alone is not always viable when measuring colonial and filamentous cyanobacteria. By tracing the phycocyanin fingerprint of cyanobacteria in the company’s reservoirs, managers are able to accurately decide when cyanotoxin testing is required.


This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

For more information on this source, please visit Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

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