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Great Lakes water quality focus of federal research

March 23, 2022

Three federal agencies are collaborating to protect surface water quality nationwide. Over the next five years, federal researchers will identify effective methods to manage and reduce nutrients, especially phosphorus.

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.

Impacts on urban and rural communities

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. Harmful algae blooms (HABs) can pose environmental health risks and potentially impair beaches / recreational sites and tourism.

Fertilizers and other chemicals applied to farmland in the Great Lakes region seep into groundwater. They then run off in the lakes especially with storm events. The nutrients as well as warmer ambient temperatures are conducive conditions for algae.

Water and soil interface

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

Research into soil phosphorus storage capacity (SPSC) is needed. Documentation on soil sampling protocol, SPSC and (artificial or) constructed wetland siting as a best management practice is lacking. Think of phosphorus sinks like carbon sequestration. Excessive amounts of an element can be removed from the system to reduce negative impacts, inexpensively.

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. The next phase of the project is testing. A 25-acre site in Defiance, Ohio will become fully operational within months.

KISTERS provides water quality monitoring instruments and transdisciplinary environmental softwareused by federal agencies and research institutes. The environmental data management system offers advanced analytics and APIs to investigate and share datasets, findings on time and geospatial trends, and impacts from changing weather patterns.