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Characterization of Cyanobacterial Biomass in a Reclamation Reservoir

Project ID: 3837
Principal Investigator: Chuck Korson
Research Topic: Water Quality
Funded Fiscal Years: 2010 and 2011
Keywords: None

Research Question

Reclamation reservoirs in the Western United States often are plagued with high density blooms of cyanobacterial algae that adversely affect water quality, fish populations, and outdoor recreation. Cyanobacterial blooms with periodic water quality problems occur in Cascade, Wickiup, Howard Prairie, and Crane Prairie reservoirs in the Pacific Northwest Region, several Upper Colorado Region reservoirs, and, particularly, Upper Klamath Lake (UKL) within the Mid-Pacific Region in south-central, Oregon. Algal blooms degrade water quality when algal cells senesce and deplete lentic systems of oxygen necessary for biotic organisms to survive and persist, release toxins that can threaten aquatic life and human health, and contribute large particulate organic loads to downstream waters.

It may become economically viable to remove algal biomass from Reclamation reservoirs or downstream receiving waters in quantities sufficient to remediate ecosystem impacts, if commercially valuable products can be derived from cyanobacterial algae.

Characterization of this cyanobacterial biomass is critically needed to fully assess the primary question of whether marketability of biologically produced compounds present in cyanobacterial mats in Reclamation reservoirs and water delivery systems worldwide is practicable and feasible. We will address this question by characterizing the primary and secondary metabolites (oils, pigments, proteins, and toxins) of a cyanobacterium blue green algae species (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae [AFA]), which forms extremely dense blooms each summer in UKL. We will also address a secondary question of how the nutrient (N and P) and carbon content of cyanobacterial mats change over the growing season to help quantify the pool of nutrients and oxygen-demanding substrates that could be removed should the commercial harvest/collection of cyanobacterial biomass become feasible in the future.

Need and Benefit

This research is needed to explore the potential for removing cyanobacterial algae on a commercial scale with the aim to improve water quality conditions in Reclamation reservoirs throughout the Western United States. Cyanobacterial algae removal in Reclamation reservoirs will potentially yield multiple benefits. Water quality conditions, if dramatically improved, would improve habitat conditions for aquatic organisms, slow the eutrophication process, reduce nutrient loading downstream, and help Reclamation ensure compliance with Federal Clean Water Act requirements and total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits.

In the case of Reclamation's Klamath Irrigation Project, water quality problems caused by nutrients emanating from UKL are a major management concern because several fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act (i.e., threatened Coho salmon and endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers) rely on habitats in UKL (i.e., suckers) and downstream of UKL (e.g., salmon) in the Klamath River. Establishing commercial uses for AFA in UKL would improve the economics of removing AFA from waters downstream of UKL and improve conditions in the Klamath River. This could provide direct benefits to the Klamath Irrigation Project by leading to the development of in-lake algae removal programs scaled to improve water quality conditions in UKL.

There have been severe conflicts over the past years surrounding water quantity, water quality, and fisheries in the Klamath Basin. These problems may also be representative of the types of water management issues affecting many Reclamation reservoirs throughout the Western United States. In the Klamath Basin particularly, there has been recent progress among several opposing groups, who are now working together to develop comprehensive settlement agreements that are near final and which are supported at the highest level of the Department of the Interior. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) contemplates wide-scale restoration measures designed, in part, to address water quality problems downstream of hypereutrophic UKL. The Hydropower Agreement, which focuses on charting a course to remove four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River, complements the KBRA by adding resources to nutrient reduction efforts downstream of UKL. This cyanobacterial algae research is timely because it also provides a concurrent benefit by complementing these nearly completed historical agreements as they relate to nutrient reduction efforts in the Klamath River Basin.

Contributing Partners


Research Products

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This information was last updated on April 24, 2014
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