Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), or blue green algae, are naturally occurring; however, their frequency and intensity are increasing. The rises in frequency are tightly linked to anthropogenic activities influencing nutrient delivery to surface water resources. Heightened agriculture production, discharges from sewer and wastewater management, and other urban runoff has amplified the amount of nutrients entering local and regional water systems. Excess nutrients create a “greening” effect with the growth of algae, which challenges healthy ecosystem functionality. One of the largest of these water impairments is the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico due to runoff from the upriver states in the Mississippi River Basin. Local water impairments, such as the Toledo, Ohio drinking water crisis in 2014, demonstrate the significant water damages that can occur if the issue is left without scientific remediation.
In a preliminary review of Extension programs in North Central Region Water Network’s 12-state partnership, HABs related information availability varies from state to state. Additionally, because HABs are a multi-faceted threat, multiple state agencies are involved in public-facing HABs activity. This variability demonstrates the need for uniform up-to-date harmful algal bloom information and resources based on the latest research to be available across the region.
In the summer of 2018 a group of water-professionals came together to address this need. The team is comprised of representatives from Extension and the Water Resources Research Institutes (WRRIs) at each of the land-grant universities within the North Central Region. With Extension on the front-lines of making change and WRRIs focused on research related to local water issues, their partnership is critical to providing the best public service.
The team, dubbed the Algal Bloom Action Team, is an Extension-driven effort taking the results from research, including WRRI sponsored research, and transforming it into accessible information and tangible tools for the public through extension and outreach in concert with state-based harmful algal bloom prevention, monitoring, and response efforts.
Together, the team worked to:
- Document existing state programming responses to harmful algal bloom related issues
- Assess outreach programming needs in the North Central Region
- Develop recommendations for strengthening harmful algal bloom research and outreach throughout the region
A whitepaper was developed as a result of this project, outlining next steps to address Extension needs related to HABs. View the whitepaper.
The team is now working to implement the recommendations outlined in the whitepaper. As a part of this work they are planning a research symposium to gather emergent research regarding harmful algal blooms and to create a venue of discussion for how to improve outreach and engagement to stakeholders impacted by HABs. Learn more
Acting Assistant Director
owa Water Center
A factsheet on this project can be found here.