Webinar: HABs Research

The Northeast-Midwest Institute (NEMWI) held a webinar on Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) research on Monday, March 18

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) continue to be a major concern for the Great Lakes. Record HABs driven by nutrient loadings have affected water quality, fish populations, tourism, and the economy across the entire Great Lakes region. A bloom in western Lake Erie in August 2014 resulted in a drinking water advisory for the city of Toledo, Ohio, restricting water use for 400,000 people for three days. These events throughout the region severely impacted the quality of life to all living in the Great Lakes community. 

Dr. Reagan Errera of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (NOAA GLERL) and Rick Stumpf of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science discussed NOAA’s research. Dr. Stumpf explained how NOAA tracks HABs, including the systems in place to provide real-time updates on location and severity of blooms as well as forecasting tools that allow NOAA to predict future HABs. Both of these strategies provide invaluable information to decision-makers who protect public health and safety. Dr. Errera detailed GLERL’s efforts to learn more about HABs on the ground. They collect and analyze water samples to gather data about the toxins present and how HABs change over time. GLERL also tests innovative water treatment practices to figure out new ways to combat blooms.

Dr. Ruth Briland, the Environmental Supervisor in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Division of Surface Water, also participated in the webinar. She spoke on Ohio’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for phosphorus, particularly as it pertains to the Maumee River, which feeds into Lake Erie. Dr. Briland also discussed the adaptive management strategies that gives agencies the tools and flexibility to meet both present need and future challenges.

Dr. Sandra Kosek-Sills, an environmental specialist at the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, gave an overview of Ohio’s domestic action plan. She discussed the knowledge gaps that research aims to fill, which is critical to evaluating progress and making the necessary adjustments to management. One question with broad implications is how phosphorus moves through an ecosystem. A more comprehensive understanding of how phosphorus gets from point A to point B allows for more varied and efficient options to remove that phosphorus. Dr. Kosek-Sills also mentioned recent technological innovations that might offer new ways to treat, control, and reduce HABs, including an Electric Cell Lysis system that could be used to treat manure.

Finally, Dr. Chris Winslow, Director of Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory,  updated attendees on the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) and the Lake Erie Aquatic Research Network (LEARN). HABRI assists state agencies with their HABs management, and gives them the research insights they need to make informed decisions. HABRI and LEARN are helping to improve every step of HABs management, from helping water utilities track blooms from the source and improve their treatment capacity to researching how algal toxins affect humans and fish.

View the recording here

Please reach out to Great Lakes Program Manager Alex Eastman at aeastman@nemw.org with any questions.