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How Local Biologists Monitor Harmful Algal Blooms

Ann Thompson
Daily water samples, like the one Thomas More Senior Emily Urichich is taking, can confirm if cameras are seeing algal blooms on the Ohio River.

Though the recent rain has helped the Ohio River avert a possible harmful algal bloom, a handful of Greater Cincinnati agencies continue to monitor the river for the presence of the toxic scum-like organism that can potentially kill fish and other wildlife.

Last week when it was really hot and dry, Thomas More College Biology Professor Chris Lorentz saw the river change to a more green color, but the recent rain minimized that threat. He says algal blooms don't usually happen in rivers but one did in 2015.

"That's the million dollar question: Why that year and not previous years?" he asks. "We're not entirely sure to be quite honest. We think it's a combination of weather factors. That was a really high water summer. Water was up in July and then it dropped really quickly and got really hot and stagnant." 

That year it stretched for 700 miles. At the Biology Field Station in California, Ky., that Thomas More runs, a camera hooked to a computer program monitors the water. Students at the station also take water samples.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
This is one of three cameras Thomas More College and other agencies monitor. It is in California, KY at the Biology Field Station. The others are in Dayton, KY and on Harsha Lake at Eastfork State Park.

"I just kind of stick it down here in front of the camera" says senior Emily Urichich. "It has to go about a meter under water, then I'll pull it up, rinse it and preserve our sample in the lab." 

Northern Kentucky University is part of the project. A computer program there analyzes the data.

There are two other cameras at Queen City River Boats in Dayton, Ky., and Harsha Lake at East Fork State Park, where there are already blooms at the lake. 

After the 2015 algal bloom on the Ohio River a number of agencies decided to collaborate. They include:

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.