Congressman for Buffalo Area Asks U.S. Army Corps to Expand Successful Algal Bloom Pilot Project to Great Lakes

This year – 2019 – on Track to be Worst for Toxic Blooms Causing People to be Sick and Pets to Die

Toxic Algae is killing fish and threatening other life in Great Lakes

A News Release from the Office of U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins in Buffalo, New York

Posted September 10th, 2019 on Niagara At Large 

Buffalo, New York – Congressman Brian Higgins  is asking the United States Army Corps to expand a pilot project, which is seeing success in combatting Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), to the Great Lakes.

In his letter Higgins says, “I write today to respectfully request that, simultaneous with the pilot effort on Lake Okeechobee, similar pilot efforts be undertaken in Lake Erie, which has suffered, in recent years, from serious harmful algal blooms.

A shot from space shows mats of green algae spreading through Lake Ontario. File photo

  “These phenomena (the letter continues) are not merely an impediment to recreational activities on the lakes, but the toxins associated with algal blooms threaten the water supplies of major cities.  This crisis is significant and growing and requires a rapid and coordinated response.”

A pilot program currently deployed by the Army Corp in Lake Okeechobee in Florida described in the NPR story “A New Way To Combat Toxic Algae: Float it Up, Then Skim It Off<https://www.npr.org/2019/07/29/745666501/a-new-old-way-to-combat-toxic-algae-float-them-up-then-skim-them-off> is called the Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment, and Transformation System (HABITATS).

The program uses “dissolved air flotation,” wherein they “attach billions and billions of microscopic air bubbles to the solids [which] imparts buoyancy to the solids, and those solids float to the surface. When they float to the surface, we can skim them off.”

This approach is new in the context of algal bloom management on open bodies of water but is similar to technology used in wastewater treatment plants.

In his letter, Higgins points out that additional funding is available, “In the Energy and Water Appropriations bill which passed the House of Representatives on June 18th of this year, the House of Representatives provided increased funding to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to “identify and develop improved strategies for early detection, prevention, and management techniques and procedures to reduce the occurrence and impacts of harmful algal blooms in the nation’s water resources.”

“In total, $9,675,000 was made available for this purpose, compared to $3 million in the current fiscal year.  When this legislation is enacted, it is my hope that the agency will direct a substantial portion of these new resources to an algae interdiction effort on Lake Erie similar to the agency’s effort on Lake Okeechobee.”

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur when colonies of algae-simple photosynthetic organisms that live in the sea and freshwater-grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.

The human illnesses caused by HABs, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal.

“In July, after the (NOAA) issued a bulletin<https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/hab/lakeerie_bulletins/HAB20170724_2017004_LE.pdf> warning of the presence of harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie for the first time this summer, Higgins wrote to the EPA<https://higgins.house.gov/sites/higgins.house.gov/files/documents/7.26.17%20Algal%20Bloom%20Coordinator%20EPA.pdf> calling for swift action in response to HABs which threaten the health of the Great Lakes and the communities around them.

This year harmful algal blooms have led to dire consequences for people and animals. Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services issued a warning<http://dhss.alaska.gov/News/Documents/press/2019/DHSS_PressRelease_20190724.pdf> in July after HABs caused people being sickened by toxins in seafood.

In August Harmful Algal Blooms were blamed for the death of several dogs exposed to the blooms while playing in waters in North Carolina<https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/11/us/three-dogs-died-algae-trnd/index.html> and Georgia<https://www.11alive.com/article/news/local/marietta-couple-shares-warning-on-toxic-algae-after-dog-dies-less-than-an-hour-after-visit-to-lake-allatoona/85-b8c44ca2-a390-4c4e-82a2-0e67ab29dd94>.

This is raising concerns in communities across the Country and areas in New York State<https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/26/health/toxic-algae-nyc-parks-trnd/index.html> known to be home to HABs.The non-profit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group<https://www.ewg.org/> reported that toxic algal blooms have been on the rise in recent years<https://www.ewg.org/agmag/2019/08/record-breaking-number-algae-outbreaks-2019> and pose a significant threat to clean water<https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2019_microcystin/> for recreation and drinking.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation operates a mapping system that tracks reports of Harmful Algal Blooms: https://nysdec.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=ae91142c812a4ab997ba739ed9723e6eHiggins is a member of the House Great Lakes Task Force, a vociferous advocate for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and supports several pieces of legislation to dedicated to environmental and clean water protections.

A copy of the text of the letter is below:

September 9, 2019

Mr. R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Washington, DC 

Re: Employing promising USACE algae mitigation strategy from Lake Okeechobee on the Great Lakes

Dear Secretary James:

Buffalo, New York area Congressman Brian Higgins

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center is conducting a promising pilot effort to manage and reduce the impact of algal blooms on Lake Okeechobee in Florida called the Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment, and Transformation System (HABITATS). 

I commend the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for seeking address this pressing problem head-on, as algal blooms threaten not only the economic well being but the health and safety of waterfront communities nationwide.

Specifically, I write today to respectfully request that, simultaneous with the pilot effort on Lake Okeechobee, similar pilot efforts be undertaken in Lake Erie, which has suffered, in recent years, from serious harmful algal blooms.  These phenomena are not merely an impediment to recreational activities on the lakes, but the toxins associated with algal blooms threaten the water supplies of major cities.  This crisis is significant and growing and requires a rapid and coordinated response.

One of the researchers engaged in the HABITATS initiative indicates that it uses “dissolved air flotation,” wherein they “attach billions and billions of microscopic air bubbles to the solids [which] imparts buoyancy to the solids, and those solids float to the surface. When they float to the surface, we can skim them off.”  This approach, similar to technology used in wastewater treatment plants, is novel in the context of algal bloom management on open water bodies.  It warrants similar pilot efforts on the Great Lakes.

In the Energy and Water Appropriations bill which passed the House of Representatives on June 18th of this year, the House of Representatives provided increased funding to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to “identify and develop improved strategies for early detection, prevention, and management techniques and procedures to reduce the occurrence and impacts of harmful algal blooms in the nation’s water resources.” 

In total, $9,675,000 was made available for this purpose, compared to $3 million in the current fiscal year.  When this legislation is enacted, it is my hope that the agency will direct a substantial portion of these new resources to an algae interdiction effort on Lake Erie similar to the agency’s effort on Lake Okeechobee.

Thank you very much for your leadership and your consideration.

Sincerely, Brian Higgins, Member of Congress

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