Posted by: Vicki Burns | September 28, 2016

Citizen Science Helps in Fight to Decrease Blue-Green Algae

Over the spring and summer of 2016, there have been numerous reports of very serious blue-green algae blooms in many waterways around the USA. According to this article, the incidence of toxic algal blooms set historic records in California and many other American states. This is not the kind of record anyone wants to see but it should prompt us as a red flag about the severity of this issue.alberta
In Canada and particularly my home province of Manitoba, we did not hear about many toxic algal blooms this summer. However before we reassure ourselves that this is an indication the problem is diminishing, we need to understand that our surveillance of algal blooms is not as comprehensive as one might expect. Around Lake Winnipeg we rely on the public’s sighting of algal blooms in the south basin of the lake and have almost no knowledge of what is happening in the much larger north basin.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the issue of increasing algal blooms, many of which are toxic, is a measurable problem. Even if we do not have timely or accurate knowledge of the actual blooms we can measure the amount of phosphorus (which fuels the growth of the algae) that is getting into the water and we can measure fairly accurately what region of the watershed that phosphorus is coming from. Although we can do this, at present it is not comprehensively done in my home province of Manitoba. The provincial and federal governments have done some routine testing at certain geographical points but not enough to confidently point to hot spots for phosphorus. However the recent announcement of the Citizen Science Water Sampling Project by the Lake Winnipeg Foundation has great potential to change that.taking-water-samples
In the spring and summer of 2016, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation(LWF) partnered with Conservation Districts: Seine Rat River and LaSalle-Redboine to collect water samples during the spring melt and severe rainstorms to determine the amount of phosphorus in the run-off. The samples were analyzed for phosphorus content and collated with the rate of water flow. The results will be made public once the official analysis has been completed. Next year the LWF hopes to increase the number of Conservation Districts involved with the sampling and eventually will expand it to the general public who are interested in helping.
This project has huge potential to assist in actually diagnosing where we need to focus our efforts in phosphorus reduction. We already know that our sewage treatment facilities and lagoons are point sources of phosphorus but it’s much more difficult to pinpoint sources of agricultural run-off without more comprehensive testing. This citizen monitoring is a great start to being much more focussed in our efforts to both diagnose and remediate. Its definitely good news for the health of our lakes.


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