Hazardous Algae Blooms- A Global Phenomena, A Global Problem and a Midwest Problem Too

Did you know Kansas and the Midwest is not unique to having hazardous algae blooms (HABs)?  HABs are a global phenomenon that occur in both fresh and salt water.  They can occur at any time, even when lakes and water bodies are frozen over!  They come in different types.  In saltwater environments, the most common type is red tide.  The type of most concern and most common in fresh water is blue-green algae bloom. Blue-green algae blooms have been reported in almost all 50 states, including all the way north to Alaska and south to Florida. 

HABs have a wide range of impacts on the environment, including potentially being harmful and even lethal to humans and animals.  The WSU EFC staff co-hosted a national webinar on them in 2020 with our counterparts from the Syracuse Environmental Finance Center in New York.  More than 150 people throughout the country participated in the webinar, including representatives from Alaska to the East Coast.  The webinar can be viewed at https://youtu.be/RiRtJg7xOGg.

Because HABs can have such negative impacts on the environment and human health, government agencies, university researchers and others throughout the world are seeking ways to control and mitigate their effects.  In the U.S., federal and state agencies have established HAB programs or research efforts to learn more about them.  Almost all state health and environment agencies throughout the country have established HAB monitoring, control, and research programs. Our close state agency partner in Kansas is one of those agencies.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment began a HAB monitoring program in 2010.  Since that time, KDHE has funded and lead research on HABs, as well as maintains an active monitoring program statewide.  These efforts are helping to increase the understanding of HABs and how to predict, control and mitigate for them in the environment.  For more information on KDHE’s HAB program, visit https://www.kdheks.gov/algae-illness/index.htm or search for your state’s HAB program to learn more.

As part of the state of Kansas’ effort to learn more about HABs, the WSU Environmental Finance Center has partnered with colleagues at the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) to assess potential HAB treatment options for Marion Reservoir near Hillsboro, Kansas.  This reservoir is a drinking water supply for several towns nearby and has experienced HABs repeatedly for several years.  The WSU EFC and KBS researchers have combined their expertise in different disciplines to seek ways to control and manage the HAB problem.  Nick Willis is the lead researcher for the EFC and brings his expertise in nutrient management of public wastewater operations.  Dr. Ted Harris is the lead researcher for the KBS and brings his expertise in nutrient management and modeling in lakes and reservoirs.  The project began in 2019 but was delayed due to the unusually high rainfall totals that year.  Field work began in earnest in 2020 and has continued annually since that time.  The project is providing insights into the climate and water conditions under which HABs occur in the lake and is assessing possible mitigation strategies to help ensure the safety of the local communities drinking water.  The project is being funded by a contract with the KDHE.  For more project information, please visit https://www.wichita.edu/academics/fairmount_las/hugowall/efc/projects_overview.php

Field work for the 2022 season has already begun. We are looking forward to gathering more data to help understand and predict when HAB events will occur.  KBS researchers plan to develop a HAB playbook for the reservoir managers and water supply users to help reduce risks associated from using the lake for recreation while HAB conditions exist and appropriate treatment of the water for drinking water.     

Stay tuned for more updates on this important environmental topic in the future!