September 2012, Vol. 24, No.9


Resurgence of nuisance algae has far-reaching implications

The green alga Cladophora glomerata is reappearing on the shores of the Great Lakes. Mats of the algae first began fouling beaches in the mid-20th century, according to a Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech; Houghton) 2012 Research magazine article, “Return of the Slime.” Overabundance of the filamentous algae, naturally present in all the Great Lakes except Lake Superior, causes them to detach from rocks on the lake floor and foul beaches, the article says.

The culprit originally was phosphorus; now, it is invasive zebra mussels.

In the 1970s, Martin Auer, a Michigan Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering, conducted research to identify why the naturally occurring algae started becoming a nuisance. Auer demonstrated that lowering phosphorus levels in water eliminates nearly all of the overabundant Cladophora, the article says.

Guided by Auer’s research, the United States and Canada implemented the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with regulations to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the Great Lakes, the article says. Massive algal blooms faded after these regulations were implemented, but now the algae are back.

Zebra mussels have changed the lakes’ ecosystems by clarifying water and enabling sunlight to penetrate to greater depths. The extra light enables Cladophora to grow in areas it couldn’t before.

Zebra mussels also filter and change one type of phosphorus that Cladophora can’t use into a form it can, providing a new food source, the article says. And billions of zebra mussels coat the once sandy lake floors, providing a hard surface to which Cladophora filaments attach, the news release says. Now the algae are washing ashore and clogging cooling-water intakes of power plants, the article says.


Professor recognized for bioremediation and nanotechnology water research

Pedro J.J. Alvarez has devoted his career to protecting water resources by researching bioremediation and environmental nanotechnology. His work, which provides insight on various water industry challenges, earned him the National Water Research Institute (NWRI; Fountain Valley, Calif.) 2012 Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for excellence in water research, according to an NWRI news release.

Alvarez, an environmental engineer and George R. Brown Professor of Engineering at Rice University (Houston), focuses on examining new technologies. He has researched remediating groundwater aquifers affected by hydrocarbons, effects on groundwater associated with ethanol fuel releases, and using plant life to remove contaminants from water. He also has evaluated the environmental effects of nanotechnology, including the fate, transport, and effect of nanomaterials; benefits and potential risks to human health and safety; and the responses of microorganisms to nanomaterial exposure, the news release says.

The award, which includes a $50,000 prize, recognizes research accomplishments solving real-world problems and highlights the need to continue funding this type of research. For more details, see



Citizens learn about water quality ‘on the go’ in Kansas City

Anyone with a smartphone now can get real-time water quality data in Missouri. On June 27, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local partners in Riverside, Mo., announced the expansion of water quality monitoring and the release of a mobile app to provide citizens with data, according to an EPA news release.

EPA provided $156,000 to install instream monitoring equipment and satellite technology to supplement an existing urban water monitoring network. The equipment provides real-time estimates of bacteria concentrations in streams, enabling citizens to make informed decisions about water-related recreational activities, the news release says.

A color code is assigned for each of 10 streams telling app users acceptable recreational uses for the waterways, based on an estimated average concentration of Escherichia coli bacteria in the stream during the previous hour.

The free KCWaterBug mobile app is available for iPhone, iTouch, and iPad. In the future, it will be available for Android phones. EPA developed the app in conjunction with the University of Missouri–Kansas City as part of the KCWaters collaboration. is a collaboration of numerous partners in the Kansas City metropolitan area working to promote greater awareness about water quality, provide a venue to share data, and connect partners to help protect and restore waterbodies. For more information, see


Student team receives funding to improve water-cleaning technology

A University of California–Riverside student team has won two design competitions for developing a drinking water treatment method that uses the sun and a lens.

The university’s Bourns College of Engineering team received a $10,000 grant for winning the Southern California World Water Forum competition and $15,000 for winning Phase 1 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Student Design Competition for Sustainability.

The team’s Pasteurization Using a Lens and Solar Energy (PULSE) method uses a Fresnel lens, which is a large, thin lightweight magnifying glass made of acrylic. Together, the lens and sunlight pasteurize water, eliminating pathogens that cause disease and infection, the University of California–Riverside news release says. During preliminary research, the PULSE method pasteurized 0.5 L of water containing Escherichia coli in 15 minutes.

During the next year, the team will work to refine the system; make it compact, lightweight, low-cost, and more efficient; and increase its treatment capacity to treat 2 L/h. The team plans to continue to experiment with different types and sizes of Fresnel lenses to optimize design, the news release says.

In April 2013, the team will present the refined design at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C., for a chance to win Phase 2 of the P3 competition.


Striving for the title of greenest building in the world

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh is vying for the title of greenest building in the world. And with aspirations of achieving or exceeding standards for the Living Building Challenge, Leadership in Environmental and Engineering Design Platinum certification, as well as Sustainable Sites Initiative certification, it just might achieve its goal.

The 2262-m2 (24,350-ft2) center opened May 23 at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Pittsburgh. A conservatory news release describes the building as the largest operational structure pursuing “living building” status in the United States. 

In addition to a long list of green, energy-saving features, the center treats and reuses all water captured onsite, the news release says. Sustainable water practices include a green roof, lagoon, water distillation system, rain gardens, and constructed wetlands.

Stormwater is captured and stored in two 6435-L (1700-gal) underground cisterns and is used to flush toilets, irrigate the property, and maintain interior areas, according to the Phipps Conservatory website. The center also features ultralow-flow plumbing with waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and bioswales, according to the website.

Through a lagoon system, water flows through a seven-step process in which plants and microbes absorb nutrients. Then, water is processed to tertiary nonpotable standards and overflows the lagoon to permeate naturally into the landscape through a series of infiltration systems, the website says.

A two-stage constructed wetland system treats sanitary water from the center. The system features subsurface flow, sand filtration, and an ultraviolet process that disinfects water to graywater standards, the website says.


©2012 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.