Solutions for Progress 

Cyanobacteria Harmful Algal Blooms

RBI works with municipalities, state agencies, private landowners, and other concerned individuals to solve problems associated with harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) caused by blue-green algae (i.e., cyanobacteria) in drinking water, recreational waters, and other affected waterbodies. We have a solution-oriented approach for responding to cyanoHABs by working to develop immediate monitoring and response plans, assessments to evaluate the potential effects of cyanoHABs and their associated toxins, and long-term solutions to control future cyanoHABs. RBI has a deep understanding of cyanobacteria ecology, the public health risks associated with exposure to cyanoHABs, monitoring for cyanoHABs and associated toxins, and mitigation measures for a variety of waterbodies. Thus, we can support a wide range of cyanoHAB-related projects.

CyanoHABs present a potential risk of adverse effects to people, pets, and wildlife. Cyanobacteria and their associated cyanotoxins have been found at increasing frequencies and locations in recent years in ambient surface waters, recycled water, and in drinking water sources in California. Their occurrence is therefore a concern to resource managers, public utilities, and public health officials. RBI has led multiple investigations to monitor, mitigate and/or control cyanoHABs, and support public outreach to affected stakeholders. For one public utility, we assessed algae scum discovered in recycled water holding ponds and found cyanotoxins were present. RBI developed a monitoring program to characterize the occurrence and magnitude of these cyanotoxins, trained staff at the public utility to collect samples, and supported public health and awareness by preparing a communication plan for the utility. We also conducted a human health risk assessment to evaluate the potential effects of the cyanotoxin microcystin in the recycled water to exposed groups of people and domestic pets, and a feasibility study to inform decisions to control future cyanoHABs.

Our cyanoHAB experts have extensive knowledge on the sources, drivers, and mitigation measures for controlling cyanoHABs and we have authored numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals on cyanoHABs. Publications include studies describing the Prevalence and Persistence of Microcystin in Shoreline Lake Sediments and Associated Human Health Risk, Outreach and Education Approaches for Harmful Algae Blooms, and A Review of the Biological and Chemical Effects of Hypolimnetic Oxygenation. RBI also provided expert witness testimony pertaining to the cyanobacteria Microcystis to the State Water Resources Control Board in its water rights hearing for the California WaterFix project. This testimony analyzed the potential for implementation of the California WaterFix to affect the frequency, distribution, and magnitude of Microcystis blooms in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. RBI is currently the project manager for a Proposition 1-funded Grant to investigate the accumulation of cyanotoxins in shellfish consumed by native fish species and humans in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. We are working in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the San Francisco Estuary Institute on this project to determine when cyanotoxins enter the Delta food web, their geographic distribution, and the magnitude and duration of impairment. Ultimately data collected from this project can serve as the foundation for future implementation of freshwater toxin monitoring and advisory programs for shellfish safety.

View Signature Projects

Primary Areas of Expertise

  • Cyanobacteria Harmful Algae Bloom (cyanoHAB) Assessments
  • Water Quality Monitoring Program Development and Support
  • Sampling and Analysis for Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins
  • Drinking Water and Recycled Water Assessments
  • Human Health Risk Assessments for cyanotoxins
  • Cyanobacteria Treatment and Mitigation Feasibility Studies
  • Risk Communication and cyanoHAB Notification Plans
  • Coordinating with Regulators and Resource Agencies