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Algae: A Slimy Solution to Improving Baltimore Harbor’s Water Quality

2012 June 28

By Nancy Grundahl

Algae are in the spotlight and – this time – for all the right reasons.  That slimy greenish stuff you sometimes see in lakes and at the beach is now being used in a pilot project to see if it can help clean up the water in the Baltimore Harbor.  Algae blooms are normally in the news as the result of excess nutrients that rob water of oxygen.  But this controlled growth of algae is part of an initiative that aims to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.

How does it work?  Algae that are naturally in the harbor flows over a mesh screen. There it attaches and grows, removing nutrients and carbon from the water in the process.  Every week, the algae are harvested and then can be used as a fertilizer or converted into fuel.

This innovative pilot is part of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Plan to make the harbor cleaner and greener.  And, if it works, plans are to expand the algal pad to at least an acre, filtering millions of gallons of water each day.  If you want to see what a smaller scale version of an algal turf scrubber looks like, view this lively video:

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2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of June focused on Fishable Waters.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Kent Mountford permalink
    July 3, 2012

    This relates more to EPA Region II, but since Reg III posted an interesting blog in 2011 (by Gwen Files Aug 18 ) on Trapa natans. After some years as EPA Senior Scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Program I’m very familiar with this invasive.

    But here’s the mystery: I have a family ocean front cottage at Manasquan on the NJ Coast, 22 miles south of Sandy Hook. After beach nourishment about a decade ago, from some offshore sand pile I began finding Trapa “seed pods” on the beach, a few evey year, until Hurricane Irene/Lee last autumn, when erosion winnowed maybe a hundred out of the sands.

    Where in tarnation did they all come from in an offshore sand deposit? I’ve checked all the “experts” I know and nobody has more than a mumbles response. ALL are deader than doornails, but still sharp enough “caltrops” you wouldn’t want to step on them.

    Any ideas from my old EPA Region’s experts.

    Kent mountford, PhD
    Estuarine Ecologist and Environmental Historian

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  2. July 4, 2012

    Interesting video

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