The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) has established cooperative agreements with the Ohio State University (OSU), the University of Toledo (UToledo) and Bowling Green State University (BGSU) to combat freshwater harmful algal blooms (HABs).
“What we’re doing is novel,” Dr. Jennifer Seiter-Moser, ERDC-Environmental Laboratory’s technical director of civil works environmental engineering and sciences. “We’re doing a wider array of work – including molecular-level studies, sensor development and material science – that we’ve never previously done under environmental civil works research and development programs. Our program is truly interdisciplinary, and our partners are important contributors. I’m confident that together we can solve this problem.”
HABs is caused by cyanobacteria – or blue-green algae, a nuisance species – and it impacts human health and safety, fish and wildlife, water supply, reservoir operations and recreation. The city of Toledo, Ohio, was cut off from drinking water access for more than two days in 2014 due to a toxic HABs event in Lake Erie.
In 2020, Congress directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement a five-year technology demonstration program focused on tools for freshwater HABs detection, prevention and management. ERDC is leading approximately 25 separate research efforts in its $10 million portfolio to deliver solutions to HABs problems affecting the nation.
“We put out an ERDC-wide call for research proposals into scalable technologies, meaning not only research and development that can clean a small lake, but that can be scaled up to something the size of Florida’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Okeechobee, and applied nationwide,” Seiter-Moser said.
The multi-pronged effort also includes investing in research projects and demonstrations with university experts such as OSU Water Quality Initiative Director Heather Raymond, Dr. Youngwoo Seo at UToledo and Dr. Timothy Davis at BGSU, who are all investigating prevention, detection or management strategies. The research projects with the universities are funded for three years.
“Collaborating with local experts to facilitate the development of a broad range of tools is how we’re going to solve this wide-ranging challenge that’s surfaced in at least 18 states” Seiter-Moser said. “This speaks to the breadth of research needed to reign the problem in.”
“We are excited that our proposed method and new techniques can make real changes for water utilities and the water quality in the lake,” Seo said. “It has great potential to be a sustainable way to handle the cyanobacteria and their toxins.”
The ERDC support has enabled OSU to accelerate its cooperative applied research on an innovative ozone nanobubble HABs treatment approach, Raymond said.
“I am so excited to be working with an amazing interdisciplinary team of experts to help find practical solutions to HABs,” Raymond said. "We are concurrently testing the new technology at the laboratory, mesocosm and field scale, with our first lake trial taking place this summer. Partnering with local communities impacted by HABs has been incredibly rewarding, and we are hopeful this project will lead to lakes that are cleaner and safer to recreate in.”
The millions of people who rely upon Lake Erie for their drinking water, recreation and livelihood will be well-served by this collaboration, said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
“The annual bloom of toxic algae threatens the economic and ecological stability of our region, and the cutting-edge prevention, detection and management strategies that emerge from this effort will have an impact for generations to come," Kaptur said. "The future of our region depends on the health of Lake Erie, and the health of Lake Erie depends on innovative solutions like the ones offered by this partnership.”