Great Lakes water quality focus of federal research

US ACE, EPA, USGS will tackle harmful algal blooms

Three federal agencies are collaborating over the next five years to protect surface water quality nationwide by identifying effective methods to manage and reduce nutrients, especially phosphorus.

In particular, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Buffalo District will coordinate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and other federal and state agencies to reduce non-point source nutrient pollution.

Not all algal blooms produce dangerous toxins in fresh or marine water; nonetheless nontoxic blooms still increase water treatment costs as water utilities use chemicals and filters to pretreat drinking water. Cyanobacteria causes toxic algal blooms, negatively impacting environmental health and potentially impairing recreational sites and tourism.

Fertilizers and other chemicals applied to farmland in the Great Lakes region seep into groundwater, and run off in the Great Lakes especially with storm events. Nutrients from these chemicals as well as warmer ambient temperatures are conducive conditions for algae.

Some research suggests that native wetlands soils have a limited capacity to retain additional phosphorus. Alternatively, the soils may be potential sources of phosphorus. Monitoring of soil quality and soil phosphorus saturation will be conducted.

Research into soil phosphorus storage capacity (SPSC) is needed, in order to implement inexpensive phosphorus sinks. Think of it like carbon sequestration, taking excessive amounts of an element out of the system to reduce negative impacts. One obstacle is the lack of development and documentation on soil sampling protocol to document SPSC and (artificial or) constructed wetland siting as a best management practice.

To date, ERDC has taken 79 soil samples from 8 locations. have been analyzed for SPSC. Coastal and inland sample locations were identified by local project partners. Testing is the next phase of the project; a 25-acre site in Defiance, Ohio will become fully operational within months.