State Officials Updated on Research Projects to Prevent Algal Blooms

In order to fight the problem of harmful algal blooms (HAB) on Lake Erie, there will need to be continuous research and new remedies created, state officials said.

State officials including Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor John Carey, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels and Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler attended an event hosted by Bowling Green State University’s Firelands Campus where researchers participating in ODHE’s Harmful Algal Research Initiative gave updates on their research projects.

This session was part of a series of events held in and around Sandusky on Tuesday as part of the governor’s “State of the State” address.

Daniels said there has been a call for action on HABs but action has already been taking place for the last four years. There will always be a need for new research, he said. The things that are asked of farmers have to be science-based, and they need to be able to say those things will have an impact, he added, necessitating the need for that research.

Butler said there is an acknowledgement that everyone has a part to play around nutrient management in the Lake Erie watershed. He stressed the importance of research for state agencies, and added that the state doesn’t know what the last remedy will be that is needed for the problem. But he said they know enough to understand they are headed in the right direction and they need to invest money in those areas.

The overview of ODHE’s initiative was given by Thomas Bridgeman from the University of Toledo, who said there are 32 projects currently in the initiative. The project was started when Carey questioned how to more effectively bring Ohio’s higher education researchers in to work on the HAB problem.

Bridgeman said it was a matter of finding researchers whose work could easily be adapted for work on HABs. For example, a researcher who is already studying liver diseases could do work on microcystin toxin, which mainly affects the liver. A researcher working on how water travels through municipal distribution systems could look at how HABs can get into those systems. He also said researchers working on studying social network practices were used to look at farming attitudes.

The initiative included two rounds of funding of about $2 million each round. The first round began in 2015 and will end this year. The second round began last year and will end in 2018. Universities also dedicated tuition and faculty time to match the state’s investment to get the projects done.

The first round looked at five areas: Lake Erie HABs and water quality that focused on early detection and prevention which led to a project that helped create an early warning system for the city of Sandusky; producing safe drinking water, which focused on arming water treatment plants with tools, technology and training to remove toxins; land use practices; human health and toxicity, which included projects such as being able to diagnose someone who comes to the hospital with symptoms from the toxin; and economics and policy.

The second round was driven by agency priorities, Bridgeman said. State agencies provided guidance on what they needed studied, and the initiative decided which projects to fund. It focused on HABs and how they move; safe drinking water; protecting public health; and how to educate and engage the community.

He said some may question the research, but noted the city of Toledo can spend $10,000 to $20,000 a day to remove any toxin from the water. What if that can be done for $1,000, he asked.

“Those are things research does. It gives you a targeted approach on the most efficient way to solve a problem,” he said.

Taylor Tuttle, a Bowling Green State University graduate student, also gave a presentation on a project she worked on. Researchers held an event at BGSU asking questions on what is known about HABs and what is not known. The discussion came to a number of conclusions, including that dual nutrient management that focuses on preventing phosphorus and nitrogen is warranted. Long-term solutions will include integration of multiple approaches of models from cells to eco systems. Treatment strategies that exist may be limited by scale, she said.

After Tuttle’s presentation, officials were given the chance to talk to other researchers on an individual basis about their work.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on April 4, 2017.