Complex issues like harmful algal blooms have many causes and many impacts — which means many different people have perspectives and roles to play in finding solutions. Researchers in this focus area are figuring out how information moves through existing networks of people and how to best use those networks — such as OSU Extension and farmer partnerships — to create effective collaborations to tackle harmful algal blooms.
Maumee Basin Lake Erie HABS Nutrient Management Options Comparative Analysis
Timothy Haab, The Ohio State University
Zebra mussels, an invasive species present in Lake Erie, have been shown to avoid Microcystis, the cyanobacteria that produce harmful algal blooms (HABs), when feeding. This behavior suggests that the mussels may actually be making harmful algal blooms worse by removing competition and allowing unhindered growth of toxic algae.
Those algal blooms, in turn, also take a toll on local economies, from recreational income to housing prices. This project aimed to develop an estimate for that loss, in comparison to the cost of managing algal blooms, to help local officials make cost-effective decisions when dealing with HABs.
The researchers found that housing values decrease by 7-16 percent when algal blooms in the area surpass the levels designated as safe for drinking water by the World Health Organization. Surveys at popular recreation spots also showed that anglers and beachgoers tended to substitute locations not affected by algal blooms when their favorite spots were closed, but that some people also decided to visit Lake Erie less often because algal blooms forced them to change their plans in the past.
Currently, the researchers are combining the survey data with housing market information to create a comprehensive model of how zebra mussels and algal blooms affect the Lake Erie economy. The optimal management model being developed from this information will be applicable to just Lake Erie, but additional proposals to expand the model to the entire Great Lakes region are in the works.
The Bottom Line
Farmer/Farm Advisor Water Quality Sampling Network
Greg Labarge, The Ohio State University – Extension
Experts say soluble phosphorus runoff from farms is an important driver of the harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes in recent years. In August 2014, a toxic bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo, along with a renewed focus on preventing future problems.
209 farmers in the western Lake Erie basin worked with HABRI researchers to collect data about their own fields and the effects that their cropping, irrigation and soil management practices have on downstream factors like nutrient runoff. Led by Ohio State Extension, these farmers collected information about conditions in 329 fields throughout the 2015-2017 field seasons, covering 15 counties and more than 11,000 acres of farmland.
While the farmers’ data will be used to better understand the effects of variables such as farm practices, climate, and soil type on the development of downstream harmful algal blooms, the farmers’ participation also provides valuable feedback loops that help them learn directly from the data they collect. For example, one farmer directly noted how cover crops reduced water and nutrient runoff from his field sites, encouraging an extended use of cover crops for water conservation in the future.
Overall results indicate a general relationship between higher soil phosphorus and higher phosphorus concentrations in water flowing from fields, but there was a lot of variation seen. This means that soil phosphorus testing can provide some measure of risk for phosphorus loss from the field, but other factors such as soil type, distance from the water and tillage choices play a significant role in that phosphorus loss as well.
Ultimately, the information can be used to test model predictions, ensuring that watershed managers, state agencies and legislators have the most current information when making decisions about how best to deal with freshwater harmful algal blooms without negatively impacting other economic sectors such as agriculture.
The Bottom Line
Maumee Basin Lake Erie HABS Stakeholder-Informed Decision-Making Support System
Patrick Lawrence, University of Toledo
A research project at the University of Toledo collected information on Lake Erie harmful algal blooms into an easily accessible web-based portal for access by interested stakeholders (lakeeriehabsis.gis.utoledo.edu).
Applying accurate information when assessing potential solutions for the harmful algal bloom problem is critical, but many stakeholders can be overwhelmed by the wide range of information sources available to them. A web-based support system featuring timely science-based information will help decision makers obtain that accurate information more quickly and with less effort.
Resources include key studies, videos, reports and tools that land managers can use to inform their decision making, including results from recent and ongoing research across the region.
The team continues to work with key people within the Maumee River watershed through a series of workshops and meetings to identify their information needs and how those needs can be addressed through the web portal.
The Bottom Line
Social Network Analysis of Lake Erie HABs Stakeholder Groups
V. Kelly Turner, Kent State University
Improving water quality requires sharing knowledge and experiences across community and county boundaries. But without knowing who the key stakeholders are and how they are connected with each other, central agencies may be lacking valuable input or missing the mark when trying to send public safety messages.
The research team has developed a map of the social connections between important players in the Lake Erie watershed. Those connections were examined to determine how strong each link is—for example, between a watershed management group and a crop advising company—and whether the groups share information back and forth or just listen without talking back.
They found two major pathways of information exchange: a top-down approach by state and federal organizations that mostly related to financing and project funding, and a collaborative non-profit network that connects stakeholders across the state. The network also showed large differences between the different watersheds, suggesting that further study may help focus outreach efforts in each region.
The final network map will inform decision making and education efforts, and will show communities how they can more effectively collaborate to improve water quality. Future research will link this social data set with environmental and water quality data to determine if there is a link between network connections and improvement in water quality.