By Maureen Langlois
The Ohio Board of Regents and a consortium of Ohio universities and state agencies are investing $4 million in 18 research and development efforts aimed at solving water quality and algal toxicity issues in the western Lake Erie basin.
Critical activities include developing a warning network for harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and research into currently unknown effects of algal toxins on human health, fish and food crops.
Other projects focus on detection and treatment technologies that will eliminate drinking water crises such as the one that affected Toledo and other lakefront communities in August 2014.
“This research will start answering the most urgent questions related to water quality in Lake Erie,” said Bruce McPheron, vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.
McPheron and Thomas Bridgeman, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Toledo, co-chaired a working group of 60 water quality experts from Ohio universities, state agencies and the Ohio Board of Regents that identified priority investment areas for greatest impact in addressing and preventing harmful algal blooms, also known as HABs, in coming years.
In addition to detection and treatment technologies for HABs, the consortium is investing to reduce pollutants flowing into the lake. One project, led by CFAES’s outreach arm, Ohio State University Extension, and Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research, aims to create an early warning system for high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, the main chemical contributors to the formation of HABs.
Another set of projects advances more sensitive technologies that allow researchers to distinguish problematic forms of pollutants such as phosphorus.
“Our strong statewide effort will help protect water supplies from potential blooms this summer while we look for the most efficient ways to prevent future blooms,” said Bridgeman, who will lead the development of an HAB detection, mapping and warning network for western Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay.
The projects include research teams from Ohio State, the University of Toledo, Kent State University, Heidelberg University and Bowling Green State University, along with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Department of Agriculture.
A total of $2 million in project funds will flow from the Ohio Board of Regents, with another $2 million in matching funds coming from the universities.
“This collaborative effort is evidence of the value of higher education in Ohio to solving the toxic algae issue,” said Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor John Carey.
The Ohio Sea Grant program, headquartered at Ohio State, will oversee project management and execution.