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Don’t Forget the Waterbody When Attempting to Restore Water Quality

Posted On 07/12/2012 By Mike Jahnke

Shaun Hyde and West Bishop, SePRO Corporation

A report issued by the United States Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), Office of Water, declared nutrient pollution a leading cause of water quality impairment (EPA-821-F-08-007, 2009). In particular, increased attention has been directed at impairments caused by phosphorus accumulation in aquatic systems and consequently has spurred enhanced regulatory and management standards. One example: the Administrator of the EPA adopting a Final Rule (2009) regarding numeric criteria for nutrients – primarily nitrogen and phosphorus- in Florida waterbodies and the recent ruling by the United States District Court, Tallahassee Division, to uphold most of EPA’s Final Rule (exception being stream criteria).

Phosphorus pollution is the primary component governing eutrophication in freshwater resources and is highly correlative to algae productivity (Carpenter et al. 1998) and nuisance algae types (Smith 1983; Seale et al. 1987; Ghadouani et al. 2003). Excessive phosphorus inputs have significantly increased the frequency and distribution of toxin-producing cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) harmful algal blooms (Hallegraeff 1993). High cyanobacteria biomass can negatively impact: 1) aesthetics, 2) water resource uses (drinking), 3) humans and wildlife (toxin exposure), and 4) water quality parameters through photosynthesis, respiration and senescence processes (Hession and Storm 1999; Wetzel 2001). For example, 58% of the 177 Missouri reservoirs sampled during summers of 2004- 2006 contained the cyanobacteria toxin microcystin with 10% of these reservoirs containing levels exceeding 20 μg/L, the human health concern limit (Graham and Jones 2009). The implementation of strategies to address external inputs of phosphorus (i.e. best management practices-BMP) are important for source control, though these watershed BMP’s are only part of the water quality restoration solution. Even when external sources of phosphorus have been curtailed, accumulation of phosphorus and internal cycling can be a significant, ongoing source of deleterious water quality impacts in water bodies (Sondergaard et al. 2003). Ironically enough, many seem to overlook the impaired waterbody (i.e. phosphorus, cyanobacteria, toxins) and an opportunity to directly address these impairments with effective in-situ management solutions. Phosphorus pollution and toxic algae are interconnected plagues prominent in freshwater resources, and if neglected will continue to devastate aquatic ecosystems throughout this country, as they have for decades. Successful water quality restoration programs need to begin with a “complete” integrated management plan that includes characterizing waterbody impairments and solutions to mitigate existing in-situ problems. Funding restoration strategies that not only address the watershed but include the implementation of novel technologies for the resident problem are required for proper water resource stewardship (i.e. don’t forget about the waterbody).