U-M awarded $653k grant to study algal blooms, water quality in Great Lakes

In this August 28, 2014 photo, soda ash is added to
water in the flocculation room at the Collins Park Water
Treatment Plant in Toledo, Ohio.
(AP Photo/The Blade, Andy Morrison) (Andy Morrison)

By Jeremy Allen | jallen42@mlive.com 
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Six weeks after algal toxins were found in Toledo’s water supply, state officials announced that researchers at the University of Michigan will receive a federal grant of $653,097 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The grant is to develop tools to predict water quality and forecast harmful algal blooms (HABS) in the Great Lakes, U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow said.

The grant will also support outreach activities to let the public know about the presence of HABS, which made Toledo drinking water unsafe for many northwest Ohio residents.

“When I was a member of the Detroit City Council, I helped pass the first local phosphorus restrictions,” Levin said in a statement. “We are still fighting harmful algal blooms today, and this grant will help make that fight more effective.”

Stabenow said the Great Lakes are critical to Michigan’s economy and it’s important for research to be done in order to preserve and protect them as the state’s way of life.

“This grant will help University of Michigan researchers develop tools to better understand the effects algal blooms have on our Lakes and help prevent future blooms like the one that recently contaminated drinking water in Southeast Michigan,” she said in a news releases.

Harmful algal blooms occur when blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, grow rapidly due to a combination of warm water temperatures, high nutrient levels such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and sunlight. HABS contain toxins that can kill fish, foul coastlines, and pose health risks to humans.

Toledo officials said that Lake Erie, a source of drinking water for the Toledo water system, may have been impacted by a harmful algal bloom. Tests showed elevated levels of microcystin in the water supply. That caused Ohio Gov. John Kasich to declare a state of emergency for Toledo and surrounding areas.

Hundreds of thousands of people served by the Toledo water system were instructed not to consume the tap water, and that consuming water with algal toxins could result in abnormal liver function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness.

Levin and Stabenow took an interest in the cause because he is co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force and she is one of the vice-chairs of the task force.

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