Current WRP Projects: Project 58

Identifying, Predicting and Managing the Occurrence of Harmful Cyanobacterial Blooms in Wyoming Reservoirs

  • Project Number:  58
  • PIs: Sarah Collins, Assistant Professor, UW Dept. of Zoology and Physiology; William Fetzer, Research Scientist, UW Dept. of Zoology and Physiology; Lindsay Patterson, Surface Water Quality Standards Supervisor, Wyoming DEQ; Matt Ross, Assistant Professor, CSU Dept. of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability; and Annika Walters, Assistant Unit Leader and Associate Professor, UW Coop Unit.
  • Period: 07/01/2020 – 06/30/2023



Harmful cyanobacterial blooms (HCBs) can lead to water quality problems and adverse health effects in humans, livestock, wildlife, and pets. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WY DEQ), Wyoming Department of Health, and the Wyoming Livestock Board have identified many reservoirs across Wyoming that have experienced HCBs in recent years; as of mid-September 2019, the Wyoming Department of Health had issued advisories for 16 water bodies. Nutrients and climate have been identified as the primary drivers of blooms in other parts of the world, but research specifically targeted toward this area of the United States would assist in identifying, predicting, and managing HCBs in Wyoming. We propose to use a combination of remote sensing and field data from WY reservoirs to improve our knowledge of when and where blooms are occurring, and what nutrient management strategies will be effective in preventing bloom formation. Specifically, we propose to address four objectives. First, we will create a Wyoming-specific calibration to relate remote sensing estimates of bloom occurrence to field estimates of cyanobacterial density. Second, we will use remote sensing estimates of HCB occurrence over the past two decades to inform a predictive model of what environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, precipitation) lead to HCB formation. Third, we will use and collect data from Boysen Reservoir and its tributaries to identify thresholds of nitrogen and phosphorus that lead to HCBs. Finally, several species of cyanobacteria lead to blooms and may have different timing, nutrient requirements and levels of toxicity, so we will collect pilot data on the species composition of blooms to identify whether taxonomic work on HCBs is an important avenue for future research. This research will contribute to ongoing efforts by state agencies to use remote sensing to efficiently identify HCBs, and to the WY DEQ Boysen Initiative, which includes objectives targeted toward identifying nutrient thresholds and nutrient reduction targets for HCBs. The research will also contribute to the training of one PhD student and several field and laboratory technicians at the University of Wyoming.


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