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Environment

Algae Fighters Use Different Methods Against Blue Green Outbreaks

Some new methods are being tested against Florida's regular outbreaks of algae blooms in the state's freshwater resources.

In recent years, many of Florida's freshwater lakes, streams and rivers have been overrun by unsightly, smelly, toxic blue green algae. But that problem isn't confined to Florida. Doug Conroe is the executive director of the Chautauqua Lake Association. That lake is in in Northwest New York state.

"We at the Lake Association have been around here for more than 60 years trying to help the community through that and what we could contribute as a non-profit," he remarked. "We aren't the solution, we aren't everything, but we are the people who have worked the most with macrophyte control and are now getting into (other) matters related to harmful algal bloom mitigation."

Conroe said polluted runoff contributes to the problem.

"Runoff control is an important piece of the pie. We're not convinced, and we don't know anybody who is, that it's a total solution."

Mainly because much of the algae-promoting pollution has accumulated in the lake bed over the years. But Conroe said a possible solution is being tried at Lake Chautauqua and in Florida.

"What was piloted here this week, which has been happening in Florida at several lakes - especially in Fort Myers - is the HABITATS Program that the Army Corps of Engineers is putting together. And we were fortunate this week to be able to host AECOM (a California-based infrastructure engineering firm) that is harvesting algae."

Essentially, harvesting the muck as a cash crop.

"They have a harvester that separates the algae from the water and returns the water in a non-algae state. That algae is then further solidified and trucked away to be used as fertilizer, to make foam products such as sneakers. And as the Army Corps project that's currently piloting is to use it as a biofuel for various industrial situations."

Conroe has high hopes for the project. But not everyone is convinced. One skeptic is Eyal Harel. He's the CEO and co-founder of an Israeli company called Bluegreen Water Technologies.

"Skimming the dead bacteria off the surface wouldn't do anything," he alleged. "Because it's literally trying to vacuum clean or scoop out the bacteria from water. What it actually does is to allow the living bacteria, the younger generation, more contact with the sun and additional nutrients that are now available to them. So you keep this bacterial infection in a constant logarithmic phase. In other words, they're on steroids all the time, multiplying every couple of hours."

Harel said that means more - rather than fewer - algae blooms. His company is testing a chemical algaecide with the trade name "Lake Guard."

"It attacks the bacteria as a mass community. The algaecide that we've developed does something in addition, which is to chemically activate a biological chain reaction within the cyanobacterial community so that they selectively release signals into the water to activate what's known as PCD - programmed cell death - within the entire cyanobacterial community."

It's a water treatment that Harel said doesn't hurt anything or anybody but the bacteria that cause algae outbreaks.

"The product that we're using in Florida, the active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide in very small quantities. Less than what you have in your toothpaste."

The federal and state environmental protection agencies have okayed the chemical, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Harel said tests are underway in Lake County.

"So this is our first project in the state of Florida and the existing contract is for Lake Minneola only at this stage."

He insisted these are very preliminary experiments with the focus on algal bloom prevention.

"Our goal, and this is our contract with the State of Florida, is to prevent blooms from happening altogether. So instead of having a situation when you have a full-grown bloom with scum on the water and trying to deal with the fire after it's already broken out, our contract with the State of Florida is to monitor carefully and identify a bloom at its onset."

Meanwhile, most environmental experts and activists stay focused on preventing algae-promoting pollution at the source, such as leaky septic tanks, and fertilizer-laden runoff from farms, lawns and golf courses.

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