Harmful algal blooms: Links between lake ecology, chemistry, and drinking water treatment

Overall project:
Human activities can profoundly alter aquatic ecosystems and create major challenges for the provision of safe drinking water. For example, high nutrient loads can dramatically increase algal productivity. This in turn can alter lake chemistry and ecology, which can have significant effects on water treatment processes. Ecological changes can include the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. An increase in the frequency and severity of algal blooms is a major concern across Canada and globally. Blooms frequently include nuisance species which can form a variety of compounds, some of which are toxic and can induce neurological damage, liver damage, gastrointestinal distress, and even death in fish, wildlife, domestic animals and humans. Numerous algal species can also produce compounds which impart unpleasant taste and odour to drinking water.

Cost-effective and adaptive monitoring tools and techniques are needed to provide water managers and regulators with the information necessary to effectively manage drinking water supplies, particularly in water-scarce areas and areas susceptible to harmful algal blooms and degraded water quality, such as the Canadian prairies. This project builds on a long-term monitoring program led by an important regional water treatment plant. The Plant currently relies upon expensive advanced treatment processes to ensure high quality finished water, and help eliminate taste and odour. This project provides an opportunity to link new technology, scientific insights and mathematical modeling to inform drinking water treatment processes and lake management in a partnership between researchers, the water treatment plant, and the province. Anticipated outcomes include developing models to inform drinking water management, and to provide early warning of conditions likely to lead to harmful algal blooms or major changes in lake chemistry affecting drinking water treatment. Results of this work will benefit not only local water utilities and water users, but will aid in the management of other bloom-affected waters, and surface water supplies.

Internship opportunity:
The Mitacs Globalink Research Intern will have the opportunity to work with a large, multi-investigator, multi-organization team, tackling the issue of developing early-warning indicators of algal blooms and degrading water quality. The student will play an important role, using statistical or model-based approaches to assess different tools for early-warning. He or she will have available one-year of real-time lake monitoring data, combined with a long-term dataset from our partner drinking water utility.

Elisa Caballero Hernandez
Faculty Supervisor: 
Helen Baulch
Partner University: