Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, recently urged the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure to adapt and deploy the innovative HABITATS (Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment, and Transformation System) pilot program on Lake Erie to fight harmful algal blooms in their next water infrastructure bill. The Congressman proposed policy text for the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), major legislation that dictates the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works projects and practices.
Harmful algal blooms (HAB) are algal blooms that cause negative impacts to other organism through the production of natural toxins, mechanical damage to other organisms, or by other means.
Lake Erie, as the most shallow of the Great Lakes, is particularly susceptible to this toxic algae. In 2011, Lake Erie’s second largest algal bloom on record cost the region $71 million in economic impact.
An algal bloom in 2014 shut down the water system of Toledo, Ohio, for over two days, threatening drinking water for over 500,000 people. In 2019, a bloom in Lake Erie grew to 620 square miles, seven times the size of Cleveland.
Scientists report the threat of harmful algal blooms is increasing with climate change. This morning, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an early season project predicting yet another algal bloom on Lake Erie’s western basin this summer.
The Engineer Research and Development Center tested a pilot program, HABITATS, on Lake Okeechobee in Florida in July 2019. The goal is to create a rapidly deployable system for mitigating large harmful algal blooms in an economically viable and sustainable manner. It will be available for stakeholder adoption and implementation at a variety of design scales.
In the first year of the pilot program, a published report by the Army Corps of Engineers concluded HABITATS dissolved air flotation (DAF) process was proven highly effective in clarifying the water and concentrating the algae, removing 95% of the algae from the water. The clarified and oxidized water was no longer toxic and had greatly reduced levels of phosphorous and nitrogen, making it much cleaner and suitable for discharge into the environment and back into waterways.
“The data and scalability analysis indicate that the HABITATS approach offers great promise. To build on the success of phase 1, Lake Erie should be strongly considered for future HABITATS phases. A successful pilot program on the Great Lakes would lend to a scalable technology to combat harmful algal blooms to the benefit of every state in the nation and bodies of water of all sizes,” Higgins said in the request.
As a member of the Great Lakes Task Force, Higgins has a history of promoting the health and vitality of the Great Lakes, and is leading the effort to fight harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie. Most recently, Higgins testified before the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urging continued investments in the protection of the Great Lakes. He pushed for the expansion of the successful HABITATS pilot program.