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Another summer, another algae bloom: Will the water industry step in?

  • Another summer, another algae bloom: Will the water industry step in?
    Taken from orbit in October 2011, the worst algae bloom that Lake Erie has experienced in decades. Photo: NASA

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Bluefield Research
Bluefield Research is an independent advisory firm founded to help companies and organizations address the regulatory, technology, business, and competitive trends impacting water.

Beach closures and ruined summer vacations are proliferating everywhere these days because of harmful algae blooms. The impacts this year have been even more noticeable on the heels of a wet spring coupled with high temperatures. So much so, that algae blooms are now visible from space and, for all you animal lovers, our dogs’ health is at risk (and apparently panthers and bobcats as well). Yikes.

From Bluefield’s perspective, our concern centers on the potential impacts on the 49,000 drinking water systems in the U.S., where the need for capital, technology, and experience was unforeseen several years ago. This is the new normal.

Going forward, signals (e.g. temperature, nutrient runoff, larger storm events) indicate Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (CyanoHABs) will increase in prevalence and intensity beyond the southern states. Bluefield anticipates that over half of U.S. lakes and reservoirs will be affected by 2022. With over 140 million people served by surface water in the U.S., monitoring for and treating cyanotoxins is an inescapable reality for community water systems.

Frustrating as it may be for system operators, it’s also a considerable opportunity for the water industry, because remedial technologies already exist. Our analysis shows that Xylem and Danaher have readily available treatment solutions and a number of providers are poised to benefit from a US$33 billion monitoring & testing segment.

As expected, the action is happening at the state and local level. Toledo, Ohio, has been the poster child in driving regulations for monitoring. In 2014, Toledo commanded the national spotlight, becoming the largest city to issue a “Do Not Drink” advisory from its water system because of a bloom in Western Lake Erie. The city just announced it will be testing drinking water daily. There is also activity in Oregon,where at-risk drinking water systems state-wide will be required to test for cyanobacteria.

Admittedly, “resiliency” gets tossed around a lot and managing influential events like algae blooms fall into this bucket. But it is more than a buzzword, because water rates and affordability will be impacted. So, how are utilities responding? Which states are trending toward solutions? What technologies and companies are best positioned? Only time will tell…

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