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2018 report for Ohio’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative highlights UT water quality research

Ohio Sea Grant released today its 2018 update on the statewide Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) documenting three years of progress seeking solutions for harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

The University of Toledo, situated on the western basin of Lake Erie, is one of the lead universities in the initiative, which consists of more than 50 science teams from 10 Ohio universities working on critical knowledge gaps identified by state agencies that include the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Health and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

The initiative is funded by the Ohio Department of Higher Education and matching funds from participating universities. It is led by UT and Ohio State University.

The 38-page report features a variety of important research activity underway by members of the UT Water Task Force to protect the public water supply and public health, including Dr. Tom Bridgeman’s work to understand the vertical movement of algae up and down the water column to help water treatment plant operators better prepare for and reduce the amounts of algae they’re taking into their system over the course of a day, as well as Dr. Jason Huntley’s research using naturally occurring Lake Erie bacteria to develop treatments that can break down microcystin in drinking water.

Bridgeman is professor of ecology and director of the UT Lake Erie Center. Huntley is associate professor in the UT Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.

The third-year report reveals that the state of Ohio continues to benefit from the initiative:

• Early warning systems and forecasts of bloom size and location are giving water treatment plants a high-resolution picture of what could be affecting the drinking water they draw from Lake Erie.

• Researchers are working directly with water treatment plant operators to provide practical guidance about producing safe drinking water for cities and towns dealing with algal toxins.

• OEPA modified its permit procedure to better safeguard Ohioans when HABRI projects showed that crops might take in microcystins from water treatment residuals used on farm fields. New HABRI research is helping OEPA refine the methods it uses to analyze these byproducts of water treatment and better assess exposure risk.

• OEPA sought out HABRI researchers to help develop a Lake Erie open water impairment listing policy, and HABRI projects have helped collect data critical for refinement of this indicator. Ohio EPA listed the open waters of the western Lake Erie basin as impaired based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data and have plans to update it based on HABRI researchers’ recommendations.

• ODNR has changed the way that information is collected on algal toxin concentrations in sportfish fillets, sampling more frequently during the harmful algal bloom season and from a wider range of Lake Erie locations to better understand how harmful algal blooms affect sportfish.

• HABRI has driven information sharing and priority setting between universities and agencies, positioning Ohio to better prevent and manage future crises through ongoing collaborations.

“Having the collaboration with our sister agencies to coordinate research priorities and funding is critically important,” said Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “Likewise, having through HABRI a consortium of university experts to take our priorities and quickly do critical, practical research with conclusions that we can immediately use to inform policy and the public is invaluable.”

The Ohio Department of Higher Education made $7.5 million available for four rounds of research funding (before matching funds by participating universities) since 2015. Ohio Sea Grant manages the projects, which also include a $500,000 match from OEPA in 2018. Results from the most recent 21 funded projects are expected in 2020.

“Colleges and universities around Ohio are making positive contributions to our state each and every day,” said Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey. “The Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative is a model of collaborative problem-solving that we should strive to replicate wherever possible. I am so encouraged to see how our higher education assets are being used, alongside other state and local partners, to address real issues that are facing Ohioans.”

Information about HABRI projects, as well as partner organizations and background on the initiative, is also available on the Ohio Sea Grant website. The report can be downloaded directly at ohioseagrant.osu.edu/p/qjpof/view.

The Ohio Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant, a network of 33 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For more information, visit the Ohio Sea Grant College Program website.