HABRI Update | Ohio Sea Grant

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HABRI Update

12:00 pm, Fri December 29, 2017 – Researchers from University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University are developing HABs monitoring systems to warn water treatment facilities of approaching blooms in Lake Erie

Ohio’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) is a statewide response to the threat of harmful algal blooms. The initiative arose out of the 2014 Toledo drinking water crisis, where elevated levels of the algal toxin microcystin in Lake Erie threatened drinking water for more than 500,000 people in northwest Ohio. To better position the state to prevent and manage future algal water quality issues, the chancellor of Ohio’s Department of Higher Education (ODHE) worked with representatives from University of Toledo, Ohio Sea Grant and The Ohio State University to solicit critical needs and knowledge gaps from state agencies at the front lines of water quality crises. ODHE then funded applied research at ten Ohio universities to put answers in the hands of those who need them ahead of future harmful algal blooms.

Since 2015, the initiative has launched a new round of agency-directed research each year, with the first round of projects completed in spring 2017. The Ohio Department of Higher Education has funded all research, with matching funds contributed by participating universities. For the 2017 cohort, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) among others will provide matching funds for some of the research and monitoring activities undertaken as part of the statewide effort.

Today 33 science teams around the state of Ohio are hard at work getting answers about harmful algal blooms that will directly help state agencies prevent and manage future HAB-related issues and will position Ohio as a leader in understanding this emerging global threat. For more about HABRI or to download its Year 2 report, go to

Early-Warning Systems for Lake Erie Algal Blooms

With harmful algal blooms, advance warning is power when it comes to safe drinking water. Two new integrated monitoring networks for Lake Erie’s western basin, where harmful algal blooms are most common, alert plant operators about bloom activity near water treatment plant intake zones. Two HABRI funded water quality monitoring buoys, or sondes, have been linked with 16 others in the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) and are augmented by weekly cruises between the Oregon and Toledo water intake points during summer. The monitoring provides real-time data about water quality – including the presence of algae and algal toxins – available online and reported in weekly emails to water utility managers and other stakeholders.

HABRI researchers at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University who are running these monitoring systems were able to warn water treatment facilities of approaching blooms in the western Lake Erie Basin during both the 2015 and 2016 seasons. In the 2016 event, researchers alerted the Toledo and Oregon water treatment plants about a harmful algal bloom in Maumee Bay that was located just five miles from the water intakes. The water treatment facilities were then able to adjust their internal procedures to handle the water safely.

A related HABRI project focuses upstream of Lake Erie, monitoring both nutrient amounts and their sources (fertilizer, manure, human or wild animal waste) in the rivers and streams flowing to Lake Erie. This project integrates and augments an existing array of river monitoring stations maintained by a combination of federal, state and university partners to identify possible high phosphorus-contributing locations and different sources of phosphorus runoff that may contribute to loading into Lake Erie.

The partners found that small losses of phosphorus due to current agricultural practices are prevalent throughout watersheds and are a major contributor to phosphorus runoff into the lake. This suggests that changes in those practices might make a substantial difference in reducing some of the spikes in phosphorus associated with heavy rainfall.

Combining data from GLOS with information from river sensors and existing climate models will also refine predictive tools that will give water managers more time to react to developing bloom events in the near future and ultimately lead to a better understanding of how to prevent harmful algal blooms altogether.

For more about this ODHE-funded HABRI project, contact University of Toledo’s Dr. Tom Bridgeman at or Bowling Green State University’s Dr. Mike McKay at

Stopping Algal Bloom Toxins at the Kitchen Tap

Neelam Jagami testing filter process

There’s already a lot of activity going on in the aftermath of the 2014 harmful algal bloom (HAB) in Lake Erie, which left residents in the city of Toledo without drinking water. Water treatment plants have added additional testing for the algal toxin microcystin that caused Toledo’s water shutdown, scientists are monitoring HABs as they develop, and backup intakes let larger plants avoid pulling in potentially contaminated water altogether.

Read this article here.

New ODHE Funding in 2017

Investigating the Environmental Drivers of Saxitoxin Production in Recreational and Drinking Source Waters
Timothy Davis, Bowling Green State University

GaN ImmunoFET Biosensors for Multiplexing Detection of Cyanotoxins in Water
Wu Lu, The Ohio State University

Critical Model Improvements for Simulating Promising Conservation actions for Tile-Drained Fields in the Maumee River Watershed
Margaret Kalcic, The Ohio State University

ImmunoFET Sensors for Detection of Microcystins in Human Biological Samples
Wu Lu, The Ohio State University

Environmental Fate and Persistence of Microcystin in Land Applied Drinking Water Treatment Residuals
Nicholas Basta, The Ohio State University

Physiological, Growth and Survival Response of Age-0 Yellow Perch and Walleye to Toxic Cyanobacteria
Stuart Ludsin, The Ohio State University

Quantifying Viral Activity Associated with Microcystin-Producing Cyanobacteria to Inform Water Treatment Options for Ohio’s Public Water Systems
Robert Michael McKay, Bowling Green State University

Optimizing the Use of Powdered Activated Carbon for Saxitoxin Removal
John Lenhart, The Ohio State University

HABSat-1 (Harmful Algae Bloom Satellite-1)
Catharine McGhan, University of Cincinnati

HAB Associated Health Effects and Airborne Microcystin Levels Among Recreational Lake Users
April Ames, University of Toledo

Expanding the Heidelberg Tributary Loading Program to Assess Future Changes in Nutrient Runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin
Laura Johnson, Heidelberg University

ARTICLE TITLE: HABRI Update PUBLISHED: 12:00 pm, Fri December 29, 2017 | MODIFIED: 9:38 am, Thu January 11, 2018
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Christina Dierkes
Outreach Specialist, Ohio Sea Grant College Program

As Ohio Sea Grant’s science writer, Christina covers research, education and outreach projects in the Great Lakes for a wide range of audiences. She also produces online events like the Freshwater Science webinar series and other outreach events, and manages social media for Ohio Sea Grant.