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Increased algal blooms are sickening the nation, congressional committee is told

August 29, 2018

Increased algal blooms are sickening the nation, congressional committee is told

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Harmful algal bloom outbreaks are increasing in frequency and severity from Ohio to Alaska to Florida to Massachusetts, killing fish, closing beaches and sickening people across the United States, witnesses told a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday.

Representatives of organizations including the Cleveland Water Alliance told a Senate Commerce subcommittee that better water condition monitoring can help fight algal blooms of the sort that contaminated Toledo’s water system for several days in 2014.

The Cleveland group’s executive director, Bryan Stubbs, told the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard that if left unchecked, the harmful economic impact of algal blooms on Ohio’s Lake Erie businesses and drinking water utilities will exceed $2.5 billion over 20 years.

He said his group is partnering with other Ohio and Michigan organizations to create a digital and physical sensing infrastructure to monitor levels of water nutrients that feed algae in the lake, as well as the levels of dangerous toxins they produce.

“Lake Erie, unfortunately is the poster child for this in the Great Lakes region,” Stubbs said, adding that more real-time, affordable sensors are needed to monitor lake conditions such as the nutrient runoff from farm fields that feed the algae.

“Solutions to the country’s growing water challenges lie, in part, with the development and adoption of new tools, technologies and approaches,” Stubbs told the committee. “Yet investment in water innovation as compared to other sectors including the electric power utility sector is extremely low.”

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution senior scientist Don Anderson told the subcommittee that a national strategy is needed to address increasing algae problems that are affecting water bodies in every state.

Patrick Neu, who heads the National Professional Anglers Association, said urban sprawl, commercial farming and climate change have increased the severity of algae problems. He applauded Senate passage of a bill that Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman co-authored to fund government research and response to the outbreaks, and urged the U.S. House of Representatives to follow suit.

“Sugary white beach sands should be lined with tourists - instead they are lined with dead and rotting sea life,” agreed Florida Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who co-authored the bill with Portman. “Let’s get the House off the dime to pass this.”

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