Preventing algae blooms
Everyone dreams of a greener planet these days, but Heather Raymond dreams of a world with a lot less green—when it comes to Ohio’s lakes and streams, that is.
The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences recently selected Raymond to head up its Water Quality Initiative. She has 20 years of experience working with innovative water quality programs and policies. In her previous position with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Raymond served as the state harmful algae bloom coordinator and lead hydrogeologist.
Algae issues. Ohio’s algae issues made national news in August 2014, when more than 400,000 residents of Toledo were left without drinking water after a harmful algae bloom blanketed an area of Lake Erie near the city’s water intakes. “I was on the front lines when the Toledo water crisis hit,” Raymonds says. “Many people are familiar with the impacts to Toledo, but I also worked with many inland water supplies that were impacted by harmful algal blooms and had ‘near misses’ of the Toledo situation. We were able to find solutions that helped them avoid a similar water crisis, but it definitely had an impact on local economies and water resources.”
Harmful algae blooms also had an effect on recreation, closing beaches due to potential toxins produced by algae. Grand Lake St. Marys is an inland Ohio water body with a history of battling pea-green water (as shown in the photograph on the opposite page).
This lake was originally constructed as a feeder reservoir for the Miami-Erie canal. At 13,500 surface acres, it was the largest man-made reservoir in the world when constructed in the 19th century; however, it is shallow. Depths typically range from 5 to 7 feet. Surrounded by housing development as well as intensive agriculture, all the ingredients are in place for harmful algae blooms.
Place for precision. The idea behind Ohio State’s Water Quality Initiative (waterquality.osu.edu) is to expand the college’s impact on water quality issues such as harmful algae blooms. Raymond says she is convinced that a combination of leading edge technology and creative thinking can provide solutions to the state’s pressing water quality concerns. “The exciting thing about being in Ohio at this time is seeing the willingness of stakeholders to come to the table and recognize that the status quo isn’t going to work,” she says.
What will work is innovation. More than 140 faculty and staff at Ohio State are working on programs related to water quality, on topics ranging from algae to stormwater runoff, drinking water safety to improved septic systems. Raymond’s mission is to help translate these research findings into water quality solutions.
Precision agriculture will play a key role, Raymond predicts. The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program already is helping protect the Western Lake Erie Basin Watershed. A new tool called On-Field Ohio! helps farmers estimate phosphorus loss and identify alternative 4R and cropping practices to reduce losses and decrease erosion.
The quest for water quality is both professional and personal for Raymond. “I grew up on the shores of Lake Erie,” she says. “I have always felt a strong connection to that watershed, and the benefit it brings to the region.”