Water Quality Expert Kenneth Hudnell Calling for Shift in Policy and Treatment Strategies to Make Near Term Impact on Impaired Water Bodies
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. Dr. Kenneth Hudnell, one of the foremost experts on harmful algal blooms, cyanobacteria, their toxins, and their effects on health and aquatic ecosystems is calling for a significant shift in government regulatory policy and remediation strategies being applied to impaired freshwater bodies. “Current remediation efforts focus almost entirely on the watershed and stopping pollutants from entering water bodies – but ignore the impaired water bodies themselves. This approach can take 20-30 years to restore a water body’s designated uses, if ever, and is far too expensive,” states Hudnell, Vice President and Director of Science at Medora Corp and Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina. “We need a systems approach that combines the best of watershed management with appropriate waterbody management technologies to restore designated uses in the near term at a lower overall cost.”
Dr. Hudnell has recently published an article entitled, “An Alternative Approach to Regaining Designated Uses of Clean Water Act Section 303 (D) Impaired Waters,” in the February Florida Water Resources Journal that explores government policy and technologies for improving water body conditions using a balanced approach to freshwater management. “Waterbody management is the use of technologies within impaired waters to reduce the stress on impaired biochemical processes and enable recovery. Current technologies can circulate water to suppress cyanobacteria and enable nutrients to ascend the food web, creating outstanding fisheries, and deactivate pathogens through repeated exposure to ultraviolet sunlight. Other technologies can capture excessive nutrients for reuse, and degrade toxic substances through bacterial digestion.”
U.S. EPA estimates of eutrophic water bodies have grown from 10-20% of US fresh water bodies in 1972 to about 50% today. “We need a policy in place that requires treating the impaired water body itself, not just trying to prevent pollutants from entering water bodies,” continued Hudnell. “Present policies are tantamount to a doctor recommending healthy life style choices to an ill patient without directly treating the illness and symptoms of the disease.”
Some of the measures and technologies Hudnell recommends include: 1) Satellite Imagery from Blue Water Satellite for monitoring conditions, locating problems, and managing progress 2) Long-Distance, Solar-Powered circulation units that continually circulate the waters 3) Floating mats that remove nitrogen and phosphorus from the water body and 4) Algae Wheels to remove nutrients by growing nontoxic algae that can be processed into biofuel, animal feedstock, or fertilizer.
The paper cites a case study in the Falls Lake Watershed of North Carolina where the projected cost of the watershed management strategy is about $2 billion. Implementation of waterbody management strategies to stop harmful algal blooms and remove nutrients would cost about $25 million. “If we use only the most effective and cost efficient watershed management tools in combination with appropriate waterbody management tools, we could restore Falls Lake’s designated uses in months to years, not decades, at a much lower overall cost. This is a systems approach; it brings about the conditions desired by the users of the system in the most efficient manner,” concludes Hudnell.