US Bill to tackle algal blooms has very low chance of being enacted

24 February 2014

Paint-like patterns formed by blue-green algae (Photo: Bill Harding)

Paint-like patterns formed by blue-green algae (Photo: Bill Harding)

US Senate Bill S1254, introduced on June 27th, 2013, was passed in the Senate on 12 February 2014 and now goes to the House of Representatives for enactment consideration.  The chances of this happening are considered to be low, in fact just 14%.  Apparently only 23% of bills that passed committee in 2011-2013 were enacted.

The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act would expand a federal task force, require it to create a program to study the problem and an action plan to address it. The task force also would study the causes of hypoxia, or the depletion of oxygen in water. One cause of hypoxia is mass die-off of blue-green algae [Source].

Lets face it, getting anything effective and meaningful done about eutrophication and toxic algal blooms is extremely difficult in just about any country in the world BECAUSE it will mean an increase in rates and taxes – something that local authorities and Big Business are not prepared to consider.  This attitude, bemoaned on many occasions on this Blog, has major and negative strategic implications.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., reauthorizes a 1998 law, that creates the federal government’s research and response framework for algal blooms. The program was reauthorized in 2004 and 2008, but Portman’s bill provides funding for research and monitoring of the Great Lakes for the first time.

Algal blooms – excessive growth of toxic algae that can make humans and animals sick – have wreaked havoc on cities including Columbus; according to Portman, in 2013 Columbus spent $723,000 to address an algae outbreak at Hoover Reservoir. Grand Lake St. Mary’s, in western Ohio, has also been harmed by algae; the city of Celina, next to the lake, spends $450,000 annually to fight algae. Such algae are thought to be caused by a combination of temperature, light and nutrient conditions, but other environmental factors also contribute to the booms.

A recent NOAA report found that U.S. seafood and tourism industries suffer annual losses of $82 million because of the economic impact of harmful algal blooms [Source].

Also worrying is the general lack of skills and experience needed to build a resource base that can inform tackling this problem.  When the Bill was passed, it triggered the usual flurry of snake oil and silver bullet theories and solutions that have become synonymous with eutrophication management in recent years. Sorry folks, there is no magic cure for this problem and don’t let anyone con you into thinking otherwise.

(The author is an expert on eutrophication and algal blooms, with over 30 years of experience)



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