Recently, a surprise algae bloom affected the taste and odor of the drinking water in the city of Westminster, Colo. (2013 population, 110,945).

Before any of the city’s testing procedures could detect the presence of algal cells in the source water, city chemist Kelly Cline investigated other ways to detect and identifying algal cells.

Cline recommended that the city buy the automated FlowCAM particle imaging and analysis system from Scarborough, Maine-based Fluid Imaging Technologies. The system would replace the city’s manual microscopy process that often required months for the data to become available.

The FlowCAM automatically takes high-resolution, full color, digital images of individual particles and microorganisms. The system measures dozens of parameters, such as size, length, width, shape, electrostatic discharge and fluorescence in real time and saves the images and data for analysis. Clicking these images on screen reveals the corresponding data while built-in, proprietary pattern recognition software automatically matches detected cells against libraries of known nuisance algal cells for instant, automated identification.

“The FlowCAM is much faster than our old, manual tests. We can run much larger samples and accurately detect even very sparse populations of algae,” says Cline. “Now I can have an algae count and a report to management in less than 30 minutes, and I’m very confident in the data.”

In addition, Cline found the FlowCAM effective for detecting, counting and identifying invasive mussel veligers, using the same water sample processed only once. The imaging particle analyzer is able to manage large volumes of water. It automatically detects zebra, quagga and other aquatic mussel veligers for 100 percent confirmation of their presence.

“Thankfully, we haven’t found any yet, but it just makes sense to look for them while we’re already checking for algae,” says Cline. “We’ve had great success with the FlowCAM.”   He adds, “If everyone responsible for drinking water quality would use it, then our science would be a lot better and so would confidence in the public water supply.”

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