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USACE Freshwater Harmful Algal Bloom Research and Development Initiatives

Delivering scalable technologies to reduce the frequency and effects of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) to our Nation’s water resources through research, technology development and demonstration

An active cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom at Port Mayaca Lock and Dam, Lake Okeechobee, FL in 2018
Figure 1. An active cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom at Port Mayaca Lock and Dam, Lake Okeechobee, FL in 2018.

Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are defined generally as an overgrowth of algae that harms the environment and economy, often giving the water a brown or green soupy appearance (Figure 1). HABs are particularly impactful to the USACE, which manages vast freshwater resources and waterways that provide a variety of services including flood risk reduction, recreation, fish and wildlife management, as well as potable water supply. This website provides an overview of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research Development Center’s (USACE-ERDC) approach to deliver scalable HAB prevention, early detection and management technologies intended to reduce HAB event frequency, severity and duration throughout our Nation’s water resources. A table of all currently-funded projects is provided below, along with program points of contact. If you would like to learn more about ongoing projects or if you are interested in teaming with USACE-ERDC to develop/demonstrate scalable HAB prevention, detection and/or management technologies, please do reach out!


USACE has been directed to develop and demonstrate technologies that will reduce HAB impacts across the Nation. The 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorized USACE to implement a 5-year technology demonstration program focused on scalable technologies for HAB detection, prevention and management intended to reduce HAB frequency and effects on our Nation’s water resources. Funding to support implementation of the authorized 5-year program was first received in Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) and was executed under the Aquatic Nuisance Control Research Program (ANCRP). A significant portion of research dollars appropriated in FY19, FY20 and FY21 for USACE’s ANCRP were identified specifically for HAB research.

WRDA 2020 authorized USACE to carry out a demonstration program to determine the causes of HABs, and to implement measures to prevent, detect, and manage them. The 2020 WRDA authorization requires close coordination with, and maximal use of existing data generated by, federal and state partners working to combat HABs. WRDA 2020 identified the Great Lakes, New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Louisiana as geographical focus areas for demonstrations. Federal reservoirs located in the North Platte River Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska) and the Upper Missouri River Basin (Montana) were identified as additional USACE focus areas.

USACE HAB Prevention, Detection and Management Focus Areas:

HAB Prevention Focus Areas

USACE is implementing a 5-year technology demonstration program focused on developing scalable technologies to minimize HAB frequency and effects across scales (e.g. small lakes to river reaches), ecoregions (e.g. subtropical FL to temperate OH and NY), and system types (e.g. reservoirs, riverine, lakes). The purpose of USACE-ERDC’s Aquatic Nuisance Control Research Program (ANCRP) is to conduct interdisciplinary research related to the prevention, control, and management of aquatic nuisance species that impact Corps projects and public facilities. HABs and the cyanobacteria that form them are indeed an aquatic nuisance species; thus, executing the HAB R&D program under the ANCRP was a natural fit! HAB prevention, detection and management focus areas are defined below.

HAB Prevention: Many environmental factors influence HAB formation, duration, and intensity. High-density septic discharge and fertilizer-containing agricultural runoff increase surface water nutrient concentrations (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorous), which promote algae growth and HAB formation. Cessation of nutrient inputs and effective legacy nutrient management are recognized long-term HAB prevention strategies. Our state and federal agency partners (e.g. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, others) have excellent ongoing nutrient reduction-focused research programs. USACE-ERDC’s research in the HAB prevention focus area emphasizes novel preventative treatments as opposed to nutrient reduction because other federal agencies are authorized to focus on water quality and it is only implicitly included under the USACE Civil Works mission. For example, ERDC researchers are investigating preventative treatment of HAB-causing algal cells that overwinter in sediment.

HAB Detection: Rapid HAB detection capability is critical for effective risk management. HAB detection includes identification and quantification of cyanobacteria species and their toxins present in freshwater samples. Current methodologies for both species and toxin analysis are costly and/or have long analysis times, which delays critical risk management decision making. Cyanobacteria species likely respond differently to treatment, which underscores the importance of rapid and species-specific analysis to inform swift selection and application of appropriate treatment. ERDC’s research in the HAB detection focus area emphasizes both cyanobacteria and toxin identification and quantitation using innovative technologies. For example, Bowling Green State University is developing a rapid assay and handheld device capable of quantifying seven prevalent cyanobacteria in a single water sample at the same time.

HAB Management: Developing and demonstrating cost-effective HAB management technologies, which can be rapidly deployed and are both scalable and applicable nationwide to reduce risks that large HAB events pose, is a key research focus area. Management technologies include chemical-, physical-, and biological-based means to remove, destroy, or neutralize cyanobacteria cells and the toxins they produce. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. A governing principle of the Corps’ approach to delivering scalable HAB management technologies is ensuring each research project produces performance data relevant to multiple ecoregions to guide optimal technology use for maximum HAB risk reduction. Chemical approaches such as algicides reduce the abundance of cyanobacteria cells but not always their toxins. Physical approaches involve using floating booms or skimmers to physically remove HAB biomass from a water body or may include addition of flocculants to sink cyanobacterial cells out productive water column depths. Biological approaches (e.g. examples here) vary widely in their mechanism and maturity level. The Corps’ has emphasized the HAB management focus area through developing and demonstrating chemical-, physical-, and biological technologies across scales and ecosystems. Ongoing HAB management-focused research project titles are included in the table linked below.

HAB Research Project Titles by Performing Agency

Most projects listed below have factsheets, please click to learn more!

ERDC-led research project titles by research focus area

Prevent (P)
Algal phytoremediation for HAB prevention
Cyanophage treatment for mitigating cyanoHABs
USACE operational strategies for HABs management in inland reservoirs
Cyanocide: a novel biological control approach for cyanobacteria
Preventative treatment of overwintering cyanobacterial cells in sediments
Developing Scalable Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Prevention Technologies in the Ohio Region
Small Regulatory Ribonucleic Acids (srRNAs) for the Control of Harmful Algal Blooms
Detect (D)
Remote sensing-based software tools to assist USACE WQ monitoring
Comprehensive satellite-based algorithms for cyanoHAB detection and monitoring
Biosensor for rapid detection of freshwater cyanotoxins in USACE waterways
Development of molecularly imprinted polymer sensor for cyanotoxins
Near real-time field test kit for detection, quantitation of high priority cyanobacteria
Environmental genetic reconnaissance for monitoring and managing HABs: a review
Unmanned aviation system (UAS) survey to support EPA Region 7 HAB monitoring
CyAN-S2, An Interagency Collaboration
Manage (M)
Evaluation of a peroxide-based product for HAB control in Lake Okeechobee
HAB Interception, Treatment and Transformation System (HABITATS) -- Lake O, FL
HABITATS -- Chautauqua Lake, New York
Mitigation of HAB toxins using 3D printed photocatalytic materials
Flocculation of freshwater microalgae using naturally-derived biomolecules
Bacterial remediation of microcystin-HAB toxins
Research on Algae Flotation Techniques (RAFT)
Light-Based Mitigation Technology (LBMT) for the reduction of HABs
Evaluation of cavitation as a HAB control technology
Evaluation of historic WQ data and cyanoHAB events: USACE technical guidance
Chitosan-graphene oxide composites for HAB management
In situ evaluation of peroxide treatments applied to harmful cyanobacteria blooms

ERDC partner-led research project titles

P, D, M
HAB dynamics in Lake Okeechobee (USGS Caribbean Center; Nova SE University)
Ultrasound as a strategy to control cyanoHABs (The Ohio State University, OSU)
Factors critical to lake and reservoir management and cyanoHABs (Texas A&M)
Implications of Seasonal Anoxia and Sediment Resuspension on Lacustrine Sediment Nutrient Loading and Harmful Algal Bloom Initiation (Texas A&M)
Early detection HABs with scalable biological treatment strategies (U Toledo)
P, D, M and scalable technologies for HAB reduction (OSU)
Coupling Models to Illucidate Freshwater Discharge Role in HAB Onset (Uflorida)
HAB Prediction and Management in St. Lucie
Rapid, portable and multiplexed detection of HAB-forming genera (BGSU)
CyanoHAB forecasts and assessments in Lake Okeechobee (NOAA NCCOS)

Synoptic HAB R&D Summary

Click chart below for enlarged view

Program Contacts:

  • Mandy Michalsen, Ph.D., P.E.
  • Strategic Initiatives Program Manager, HAB Program Coordinator
  • USACE ERDC Environmental Laboratory
  • Mike Greer
  • Program Manager, Aquatic Plant Control Research and Aquatic Nuisance Species Research Programs
  • USACE ERDC Environmental Laboratory