Water Quality | Harmful Algal Blooms
Cyanobacteria refers to organisms that have characteristics similar to algae as well as bacteria - they are prokaryotic like bacteria, yet undergo photosynthetic processes much like their eukaryotic algal counterparts. They contain green and blue-green photosynthetic pigments within their cells from which they obtain their energy to function. They occur in both freshwater and marine environments, and certain species can contain secondary metabolites that are toxic. Many freshwater species find optimal growth rates in warmer, nutrient-enriched waters. Nutrient sources such as agricultural runoff and wastewater effluent have been linked to prolific growth rates of these bacteria, whereby they outcompete other more commonly occurring algal species and form large "blooms" within the waterbody.
Cyanobacteria-associated harmful algal blooms (HABs) and their toxins are an increasing concern across the continent and globally. The frequency of HAB occurrence is on the rise and cyanobacteria toxicity has been associated with human health impacts including skin rashes, gastrointestinal and respiratory disease, and liver damage. Effects can be even more pronounced (potentially even fatal) in animals ranging from cattle to dogs. HABs have direct implications to the use of recreational waterbodies for contact recreation, the susceptibility of public water supplies to toxins, and the overall degradation of our aquatic resources.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and all NEIWPCC states have expressed continued interest in addressing issues related to HABs and cyanobacteria. In response to this need, NEIWPCC, in collaboration with EPA, has hosted three cyanobacteria workshops for participants to learn and share information about the state of science, detection methodologies and treatment techniques, monitoring protocols, and state and federal guidance and regulatory activity concerning cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins. At a workshop in June 2013, participants expressed a desire to have a workgroup designated to cyanobacteria and HABs where they would have the opportunity to discuss these issues on a more regular basis. Soon thereafter, we formed NEIWPCC's Harmful Algal Blooms Workgroup.
NEIWPCC's HAB workgroup, which includes stakeholders from EPA, state public health and water resource management programs, academic institutions, and public interest groups, discusses key HAB considerations and needs in the region. The group looks to share lessons learned and facilitate discussion and collaboration on HAB-related issues and actionable solutions for the region.
Workgroup members have identified five areas of particular interest, and further work on each of these five focus areas continues through Focus Teams convened by NEIWPCC. These focus teams, comprised of members from the larger HAB Workgroup, develop agendas and create outputs to support regional needs. Proposed outputs include compiled information on regulations, policies, outreach methods, and management practices, and may eventually involve development of regionally consistent protocols, methods, and guidance.
Focus teams and select outputs:
- Advisories and outreach to the public
- Best management practices (methods to control blooms)
- Guidance for drinking water facilities
- Monitoring and analysis of cyanobacteria and blooms
- Regulations for recreational waters
Further work on each of these five focus areas continues through Focus Teams convened by NEIWPCC. These focus teams, comprised of members from the larger HAB Workgroup, develop agendas and create outputs to support regional needs. Proposed outputs include compiled information on regulations, policies, outreach methods, and management practices, and may eventually involve development of regionally consistent protocols, methods, and guidance.
For more information, contact Jasper Hobbs, coordinator of our HAB Workgroup.