News Feature | September 13, 2018

Oregon, Ohio Regulate Algae. Will More States Follow Suit?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Two states have mandated that public water systems test their water for algae toxins, and more states could follow suit, according to NPR.

“As the climate warms, hazardous algae blooms are becoming more prevalent around the world. If ingested, cyanotoxins from these blooms can cause organ damage — even death,” the report stated.

Ohio and Oregon were the first two states to make regulatory changes to address algae, the report stated. Oregon’s rules come on the heels of the discovery of cyanotoxins in the drinking water in Salem, OR, this year, The Statesman Journal previously reported.

Meanwhile, “Rhode Island is considering new drinking water regulations for algae. And New York state just announced a multi-million dollar effort to curb algae blooms, after toxins were found in drinking water two years ago,” NPR reported.

Salem, OR, was under a drinking water advisory for nearly a month, NPR stated.

“The solution they arrived at involves dumping enormous bags of powdered carbon into the unfinished water supply. The carbon binds with toxins, and helps to remove them,” the report said.

Peter Fernandez, Salem's public works director, compared this solution to a Brita filter. This process costs about $2 million per year.

“And so far, it's working. Algae has persisted around Detroit Lake, but since the new system went live on July 4, Salem's water has been free of algae toxins,” the report stated.

In many parts of the country, the algae problem appears to be growing worse.

"Since the mid-2000s it's gotten worse, and the worst blooms on record have happened more or less in the last 10 years," says Steven Wilhelm, a University of Tennessee professor, per NPR.

NPR highlighted research on the role of climate change in exacerbating the algae problem.

"We definitely think there's a role for these warm seasons we have been seeing over the last few years," Wilhelm stated, per NPR. "These so-called bad algae tend to do better at warmer temperatures."

Researchers emphasized that algae is a threat to drinking water.

"It's a concern in many states — especially states that pull water from surface waters that are contaminated with these," said researcher Tim Davis of the Bowling Green State University in Ohio. "The ability to provide clean drinking water is something people take for granted until they don't have it."

Experts say farmers have a role to play in curbing the algae threat.

At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on cyanotoxins, an official from the American Water Works Association, explained the origin of the algae problem several years ago.

“There is no uncertainty about one critical aspect of the problem: It is always associated with amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water,” the official said, per Roll Call. “Although each watershed is unique and has its own mix of nutrient sources, across the nation the most prominent uncontrolled sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are non-point sources — that is, runoff. These sources are at the same time both the hardest to manage and the furthest from being subject to meaningful federal regulatory authority.”