Phytoplankton, Taste-and-Odor Compounds, and Cyanotoxin Occurrence in Four Water-Supply Reservoirs in the Triangle Area of North Carolina, April–October 2014

Scientific Investigations Report 2024-5001
Prepared in cooperation with the Triangle Area Water Supply Monitoring Project Steering Committee
By: , and 



Prior to 2014, local utilities and State agencies monitored for cyanotoxins and taste-and-odor (T&O) compounds and reported occasional detections in three water-supply reservoirs in Wake County, North Carolina. Comparable data for cyanotoxins and T&O compounds were lacking for other water-supply reservoirs in the Triangle area of North Carolina. This report assesses whether cyanotoxins and T&O compounds occurred in four previously unmonitored North Carolina Triangle area water-supply reservoirs at levels that exceed existing North Carolina and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recreational and drinking water health advisory, guidance, and criterion levels based on data collected during the peak phytoplankton growth period in 2014. Samples were collected from five sites across the study reservoirs (Cane Creek Reservoir, West Fork Eno River Reservoir, B. Everett Jordan Lake, and University Lake) between April and October 2014 and analyzed for physical characteristics, chemical constituents, phytoplankton communities, cyanotoxins, and T&O compounds.

Lake stratification during the sampling period in 2014 could indicate that the deep zones of the water column, during stratified anoxic conditions, may serve as possible sources of nutrients and metals for algal growth and other biogeochemical processes. Differences in phytoplankton communities were attributed to variability in environmental conditions across the sites and sampling events. Differences generally were greater among sites than among sampling events for phytoplankton communities and environmental conditions.

Phytoplankton community assemblages, within reservoirs, often were dominated by cyanobacteria that contained genera capable of producing T&O compounds and cyanotoxins during summer and fall months. The occurrence and associated biovolumes of potential producers of cyanotoxins and T&O compounds varied across the sites and sampling events. Of 20 samples collected during the study, the T&O compound geosmin and the cyanotoxin microcystin were present in 19 and 18 samples, respectively. While not harmful, the aesthetically displeasing geosmin concentrations periodically exceeded the human detection threshold of 15 nanograms per liter at most sites. The T&O compound 2-methylisoborneol (MIB) was detected in 11 of 20 samples, with concentrations below the human detection threshold of 15 nanograms per liter in all but one sample. The cyanotoxin anatoxin-a was detected in two of the samples. No other cyanotoxins were detected during the study.

In general, results did not indicate the biovolume of any given phytoplankton genera in the study was correlated with increased concentrations of MIB, geosmin, or microcystin. Results from this study indicated that microcystin concentrations in the water-supply reservoirs in the Triangle area were below EPA-recommended recreational level of 8 micrograms per liter, but periodically exceeded the EPA finished-water 10-day health advisory level of 0.3 microgram per liter for bottle-fed infants and preschool-age children. This suggests longer term data collection may be necessary to better understand the magnitude and frequency of cyanotoxin concentrations in these four water-supply reservoirs, particularly those with an elevated risk of exceeding the EPA 10-day health advisory levels in the finished drinking water or those with a higher frequency of T&O compound occurrence.

Suggested Citation

Journey, C.A., McKee, A.M., and Diaz, J.C., 2024, Phytoplankton, taste-and-odor compounds, and cyanotoxin occurrence in four water-supply reservoirs in the Triangle area of North Carolina, April–October 2014: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2024–5001, 63 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1
  • Appendix 2
  • Appendix 3
  • Appendix 4
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Phytoplankton, taste-and-odor compounds, and cyanotoxin occurrence in four water-supply reservoirs in the Triangle area of North Carolina, April–October 2014
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2024-5001
DOI 10.3133/sir20245001
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) South Atlantic Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 63 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State North Carolina
Other Geospatial Triangle area
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details