Preventing Zika Virus & Other Mosquito-Borne Diseases

The start of mosquito season is right around the corner. Princeton Hydro offers simple solutions to reduce mosquito exposure and eliminate mosquito breeding.

Concerns about Zika virus (transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito) arose in Brazil last May and have since quickly escalated. With cases confirmed in over 20 countries across Central and South America, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the virus an international public health emergency. WHO reported that Zika could infect as many as 4 million people by the end of 2016. Additionally, West Nile virus remains a concern throughout the U.S. along with other mosquito-borne illnesses that affect humans, pets and livestock.

With spring rains and warmer temperatures on the horizon, mosquitos of all types will soon be buzzing. As predicted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, by June we can expect mosquitos carrying the Zika virus to arrive in the Mid-Atlantic States. There are many simple measures that public and private pond and land owners can take in advance of mosquito season to reduce mosquito breeding and lessen the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses without resorting to the use of chemicals.

Here are three simple mosquito-prevention tips for ponds:

  • Eliminate stagnant water by installing a sub-surface aeration system. This will keep the pond thoroughly mixed and properly circulated. Subsurface aeration systems are the most cost-effective and energy-efficient way to maintain proper pond circulation and mixing. DSC02027Agitating the water’s surface interferes with the female mosquito’s ability to lay eggs and the success of mosquito larvae.
  • Along the shoreline of the pond, maintain or create an aquascaped edge dominated by native, non-invasive vegetation. As opposed to a sterile lawn edge, an aquascaped edge provides habitat for mosquito-eating amphibians, fish, birds, and beneficial insects.
  • Prevent grass clippings and lawn fertilizer from entering the pond. Doing so decreases the chance of an algae bloom which could create the still water conditions that favor mosquito breeding.

Additionally, you may want to consider hiring a certified professional to assess your pond and develop a customized management plan. Having your pond inspected by an expert helps you stay informed about your pond’s ecological status and implement measures to prevent/remedy conditions that could create mosquito breeding habitat and promote mosquito related problems.

But that’s not all!

Here are seven things you can do around your home or business property to prevent mosquito breeding:

  • Stagnant water is the perfect habitat for mosquito breeding. IMG_0695Check your property for areas where water easily collects: empty flower pots, buckets, old tires, tire ruts, low spots in lawns and trash cans.
  • Clear clogged rain gutters and storm drains, and keep them free of debris.
  • Regularly change the water in bird baths and pet dishes.
  • Store canoes and small boats upside-down.
  • Check tarps and grill covers for pooled water, and shake them out after a rain storm.
  • Repair leaky outside faucets, pipes and hoses to prevent puddles from forming.

Simply put, if you want to limit mosquito breeding in your pond or on your property, take the time to implement long-term management measures that integrate natural solutions, thereby creating an inhospitable environment for mosquitos. As noted above, this can be accomplished without resorting to chemicals! In addition to keeping your pond properly circulated, employ preventative practices that eliminate potential mosquito-breeding areas around your property, and regularly inspect areas to help quickly identify and resolve developing mosquito populations.

Princeton Hydro offers a full complement of services, including detailed water quality analysis, adaptive management plans and field services covering all areas of pond maintenance. Our team of certified lake and pond managers, wetland scientists, and water resource engineers can provide you with the expertise needed to diagnose the cause of pond problems and develop solutions that are environmentally sound and cost-effective. Contact Princeton Hydro to discuss how we can help you!

Read an interesting article about the origins of Zika here.

Visit Princeton Hydro at PALMS Conference: February 24 & 25

The Pennsylvania Lake Management Society (PALMS) is hosting its 26th annual conference on February 24 & 25 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center in State College, PA. Lake professionals, students, recreation enthusiasts, lakeside residents and community members are all invited to come together to explore a variety of topics related to managing lakes and reservoirs. 

The conference offers a collection of professional presentations, workshops and panel discussions. Attendees are also invited to the exhibit hall to discover the latest lake management tools and technologies, exchange information with a diverse group of vendors and network with peers. Be sure to visit the Princeton Hydro Booth to talk with them about the latest advancements in pond, lake and watershed management.

On February 24, Princeton Hydro President, Stephen Souza, invites you to attend his presentation on tracking and controlling cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms using the firm’s unique PARE™ program. The presentation is at 11:10am followed by a panel discussion on cyanobacteria related lake and pond issues at 11:50am.

During the second day of the conference, Princeton Hydro Director of Aquatic Programs, Fred Lubnow, encourages you to join him for a lecture and discussion on the ecology and management of shallow lakes at 11:30am. 

Click here for the complete 2016 PALMS Conference Schedule. The Princeton Hydro team hopes to see you there! 

In advance of the conference, if you’d like to learn more about the problems associated with cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms and how to implement PARE™, a comprehensive program for tracking and quantifying harmful algae blooms, you can read the “Emerging Issues” white paper by clicking here.

Tracking and Addressing Harmful Algae Blooms

Princeton Hydro’s PARE™ Program:
A Tool for Tracking and Addressing Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs)

Understanding HABs

Over the past decade we have learned more about the serious health implications associated with intense cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae) blooms. Although cyanobacteria are not truly algae, these blooms have come to be labeled Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs). Cyanobacteria have a number of evolved advantages relative to “good phytoplankton.” For example, many cyanobacteria are capable of fixing and assimilating atmospheric nitrogen, thus providing them with an unlimited source of a key growth-limiting nutrient. Most are also biologically adept at up-taking and utilizing organic phosphorus, another growth-limiting nutrient. Certain cyanobacteria can also regulate their position in the water column, thereby enabling them to capitalize on changing environmental conditions. HABsMany also are adept at effectively photosynthesizing under low light conditions. Finally, they are selectively rejected as a food source by filter feeders and zooplankton. These “life history” strategies enable cyanobacteria to rapidly out-compete phytoplankton and exploit their environment leading to a bloom.

It has been repeatedly documented that, under the correct set of conditions, HABs may generate very high concentrations of cyanotoxins. These toxins are used by cyanobacteria to achieve dominance in a lake, pond or river. Swimming in waters with even low concentrations of cyanotoxin may cause skin rashes (even for dogs and livestock), ear/throat infections and gastrointestinal distress. At high concentrations, cyanotoxins can impact the health of humans, pets and livestock. Drinking water contaminated by very high cyanotoxin concentrations can actually be lethal. Recently, increased attention is being given to possible links between cyanotoxins and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s.

The cyanobacteria of greatest concern include Microcystis, Planktothrix, Anabaena, Aphanizomenon, Oscillatoria, Lyngbya and Gloeotrichia. Different types of cyanotoxins are produced by these various cyanobacteria. The cyanotoxins receiving the most attention are Microcystin-LR and Cylindrospermopsin, but Anatoxin–a, Saxitoxins and Anatoxin-a(S) are also very problematic.

Regulatory agencies are still struggling to define what constitutes a “problem” and how to deal with HABs. For a number of years the World Health Organization (WHO) has used a provisional drinking water standard of 1 µg/L microcystin in drinking water. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recently issued cyanotoxin guidance for drinking water that provides different action levels for children versus adults and for microcystin and cylindrospermopsin¹. Adding to the confusion, the majority of the States are still developing guidance and/or regulations concerning cyanotoxins in both drinking water and recreational waterbodies. As such, it is difficult to define when a bloom constitutes a problem and, more importantly, what action to implement to protect the health and welfare of the public, pets and livestock.

Cyanotoxins may be released into the environment by both living and dead cyanobacteria. However, the greatest concentrations occur as the cyanobacteria die and the cells break down –  something that is exacerbated by treating it with copper sulfate, which is the standard response to treating a bloom. Thus, “killing off” a bloom can actually make matters worse by quickly releasing large amounts of cyanotoxins into the water column. Once released into the environment, cyanotoxins are extremely stable and decompose slowly.

Common Misconceptions About HABs

There are a variety of common misconceptions about HABs, including: they occur only in the summer when water temperatures are elevated; they are unique to nutrient rich (hypereutrophic) systems; they are driven solely by elevated phosphorus concentrations; and they are most likely to occur under stable (stratified) water column conditions. The most potentially harmful misconception is that HABs can be cured by treating them with copper sulfate; because, as noted above, copper sulfate treatments can actually make things worse.

The above “typical conditions” don’t always lead to a HAB, and blooms with elevated cyanotoxin levels may occur even in nutrient-limited waters or under environmental circumstances that deviate from the “norm.” To further complicate matters, not all cyanobacteria are associated with HABs, cyanotoxin producers may not always produce cyanotoxins, and the taste and odor compounds often associated with HABs may be generated by non-HAB algae species. As such, the only definitive way to understand if a waterbody suffers from, or is in danger of suffering from, a HAB is to collect the proper data. This includes:

  • Quantification and speciation of the phytoplankton community
  • Collection and analysis of Chlorophyll a
  • In-Situ measurement of
    • Dissolved oxygen
    • Temperature
    • pH
    • Secchi disk depth
  • Collection and analysis of
    • Phosphorus (TP, SRP, DOP and DIP)
    • Nitrogen (Nitrate and Ammonia)
  • Measurement of taste and odor compounds
    • Geosmin
    • 2-methylisoborneol (aka MIB)
  • Analysis of the amount of Microcystin present in the water column.

To date, cyanotoxin testing has been expensive and the data turn-around slow.

A Strategy for Tracking and Managing HABs

To help understand and monitor HABs, Princeton Hydro recently launched a multi-prong strategy called PARE™ (Predict, Analyze, React, and Educate). Princeton Hydro’s PARE™ program focuses on the importance of thoroughly understanding site conditions, properly tailoring action programs and sustaining management efforts that go far beyond simply treating a bloom. As noted above, the PARE™ program consists of four key, interrelated elements:

  • Predict – Forecast a bloom using a long-term database of keystone parameters, and/or remote sensing techniques
  • Analyze – Quantify a bloom’s severity by measuring key diagnostic parameters including Microcystin
  • React – Implement measures to prevent, control or terminate a HAB
  • Educate – Share information with and educate the community about HABs


Ideally, to successfully predict HABs, it is paramount to measure the amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen, and chlorophyll in the water column, track dissolved oxygen and water temperature profiles, and identify the types and densities of cyanoWater Quality Databacteria and phytoplankton. Overall, in order to effectively predict the onset, magnitude and duration of a HAB, it is necessary to have a good data foundation.


With an adequate database, it becomes possible to develop algorithms that account for all of the chemical, hydrologic and physical variables that may lead to HABs, including seasonal differences in weather and precipitation. In some cases it may also be possible to utilize remote sensing technology to track bloom development.

With a suitable database, it becomes possible to develop HAB thresholds based on:

  • Phytoplankton densities (cell counts)
  • Bloom indicators
    • Declining Secchi disc clarity : < 1 meter)
    • Chlorophyll a concentration: >20 µg/L)
    • MIB concentration : >10 ng/L
    • Geosmin concentration: > 10 ng/L

As part of PARE™ we also now have the ability to quickly and effectively measure the concentration of Microcystin in the water column using a combination of rapid response field test kits and accurate, quick-turnaround laboratory analyses.  The Microcystin data can then be compared to established USEPA or, when available, state guidance concentrations for cyanotoxins in drinking water and recreational water.


The data that are generated from the Predict and Analyze elements of the PARE™ program enables us to know when aChart bloom is about to occur or has developed, and quantify the severity of the bloom.  The many variables that may lead to HABs interact in a complex manner in lake and pond ecosystems. Manipulating the ecosystem to prevent or treat HABs requires extensive expertise.  

Some of the interactions that must be taken into consideration include:   

Biological linkages and interactions

  • Nitrogen fixers versus non-nitrogen fixers
  • Early blooming species potentially setting the stage for more problematic later blooming species
  • Zooplanktivory and the role of the fishery in stimulating a bloom or creating the environmental conditions supportive of a bloom
  • Nitrogen/Phosphorus ratios as well as the type, availability and sources of these primary nutrients

Through the correct understanding of these interactions it becomes possible to properly React by designing and implementing various pre-emptive controls and corrective measures such as:

  • Aeration and mixing,
  • Use of nutrient inactivators (alum, PhosLock® and alum surrogates),
  • Ozone,
  • Biomanipulation of the fish and plankton communities, and
  • Limited, properly timed algaecide applications.  

On a larger, long-term scale, the React element of the PARE™ program encompasses watershed management programs targeting nutrient load reductions that can actually reduce bloom frequency/intensity.  

Although the React element recognizes the role of algaecides as a potential part of the solution, it does not condone repeated extensive treatments with copper sulfate.  As noted above, relying solely on substantial copper sulfate treatments most often only triggers worse conditions and leads to spiraling, repetitive blooms.

Education and Outreach

Besides informing the public about health concerns related to cyanobacteria and HABs, it is important that stakeholders are also informed about measures that they can implement to help prevent blooms.  This includes “on-lot” nutrient controls such as septic management, limited application of lawn fertilizers, creation of shoreline buffers and waterfowl control. It is also necessary for stakeholders to understand the lifecycle of HABs, that ongoing monitoring and management help address HABs before they peak, and that, while seeming to be the “magic bullet,” copper sulfate is not the proper management tool.

Implementing PARE™

Begin PARE™ early, with the sampling of the above-noted key water quality Sampling Kitparameters and bloom initiated in early spring.  Then sample on a regular basis over the entire course of the growing season, especially in the summer when cyanobacteria problems emerge and peak. This information will become the foundation of the comprehensive database used to make timely management decisions.  The key is to be in a position to predict the onset of a bloom so that management actions can be implemented in a proactive, as opposed to reactive, manner.  Microcystin sampling can be focused on beach areas or around water intakes.  Begin with the simple, test-strip rapid response, in-field testing and, when necessary, use the laboratory analyses to confirm or further quantify whether a bloom has triggered a cyanotoxin problem.  If there is early evidence of a cyanobacteria bloom, implement the proper measures needed to control the bloom.  While bloom control measures are being implemented, continue to collect and analyze the microcystin data to confirm that the implemented measures have improved water quality and that conditions are safe for the ingestion of the water or the recreational use of the lake. After achieving specific water quality and HAB control goals, continue to implement the measures needed to track conditions and prevent/react to future blooms.  This will further facilitate the ability to respond to and control cyanobacteria blooms.

For more information about HABs and PARE™ come see us at the upcoming Pennsylvania Lake Management Society (PALMS) Conference. Click for details.

¹0.3 µg/L for microcystin and 0.7 µg/L for cylindrospermopsin children < than school age. For all others 1.6 µg/L for microcystin and 3.0 µg/L for cylindrospermopsin.

Natural VS. Artificial Lakes

In addition to deep versus shallow, waterbodies can also be compared and contrasted as naturally occurring or as the result of an artificial impoundment or reservoir. While there are a wide variety of natural lakes -from the glacial lakes of northern regions, to oxbow lakes adjacent to rivers, to coastal lakes that can be connected to the ocean – most of these natural systems have a number of common characteristics. Some of these include variable nutrient and sediment loading (from low to high, depending on the nature of the watershed) and low to moderate watershed-to-lake area ratios. In addition, natural waterbodies tend to have distinct and sometimes extensive littoral zone fringe habitat along the shoreline. Littoral habitat is the interface between the land and the open waters of a lake. Typically, rooted aquatic macrophytes (plants and mat algae) are found in the littoral zone, along with a number of aquatic organisms that use this habitat for food and/or cover. Thus, the littoral zone of lake is frequently the most productive areas of this ecosystem.

Graphic adapted from

Graphic adapted from

In contrast, large artificial impoundments, frequently called reservoirs, are waterbodies typically created by placing a dam across a stream or river (see below). This often results in the triangular shape of a reservoir; the deepest portion is located just behind the dam. Unlike many natural lakes that have a number of small inlet or inflow streams, a reservoir typically has one main inflow, which is essentially the river or stream that was originally dammed. Traveling upgradient from the dam towards the main inlet, water depth will decline. Additionally, many reservoirs are a type of hybrid of natural lakes and rivers. The upgradient/inflow part of the reservoir functions more like a riverine system, while the main body of the reservoir near the dam functions more like a lake (see below).

Graphic adapted from Reservoir Limnology: Ecological Perspectives, edited by K.W. Thornton, B.L. Kimmel and F.E. Payne, 1990

Graphic adapted from Reservoir Limnology: Ecological Perspectives, edited by K.W. Thornton, B.L. Kimmel and F.E. Payne, 1990

Since reservoirs are essentially dammed rivers, they tend to have very large watershed-to -lake area ratios, which means they tend to experience substantially higher nutrient and sediment loads compared to natural lakes. Thus, the level of productivity (algae growth) in the open waters of a reservoir is substantially higher than those of a natural lake. This means reservoirs have the tendency to experience larger and more frequent algal blooms. High rates of sediment loads also means rates of sedimentation will be higher in reservoirs compared to natural lakes. Finally, since the water level of reservoirs are highly dependent on inflow from the main riverine source, as well as water withdrawals in the case in drinking water supplies, the establishment of a littoral zone in reservoirs tends to be very limited.

In summary, a reservoir of comparable size to a natural lake will typically have a higher level of algal productivity, higher rates of sedimentation, and a smaller amount of biological diversity (with the general absence of a littoral zone). Thus, water quality problems can be larger and more frequent in reservoirs when compared to many natural lakes. Since many reservoirs are vital sources of potable water for millions of people throughout the United States, the general management activities for a reservoir tends to be higher relative to many natural lakes.

Join us next time, when we will discuss lake and pond productivity, the role the watershed plays in productivity, and how this impacts their recreational, potable and ecological value.

Deep vs. Shallow Lakes

While natural lakes tend to be categorized based their geomorphology (e.g. glacial lakes vs. riverine-created oxbow lakes), here we compare deep versus shallow waterbodies.

The depth of a lake has a profound effect on its ecology. If a lake is deep enough, typically a mean depth of 8 to 10 feet or greater, it can thermally stratify, which means the surface waters are a lot warmer than the deep waters. If the bottom waters are “sealed off” from the atmosphere, they can’t mix with the surface waters due to temperature differences in the summer (called stratification). In turn, the bottom waters can become depleted of dissolved oxygen. This can have a potentially negative impact on deep water fishery habitat and the lake’s nutrient (generally nitrogen and phosphorus) loads. Many of our clients utilize sub-surface aeration systems to keep the bottom waters in deeper lakes oxygenated over the summer month to enhance the fishery habitat and minimize the phosphorus that “leaks” from the sediments in the absence of dissolved oxygen.

Lake Stratification

Graphic adapted from Nebraska DEQ slide found on

In sharp contrast to deep lakes, shallow lakes (typically mean depths less than 8 feet) can remain well-mixed and oxygenated from surface to bottom over the summer months. Thus, the depletion of dissolved oxygen is typically not a problem in many shallow lakes. However, shallower water depths result in a larger portion of the lake bottom receiving a sufficient amount of sunlight to stimulate aquatic macrophyte (aquatic plants and mat algae that initiate growth along the sediments) growth. Thus, shallow lakes, or shallow areas of deeper lakes, can experience nuisance densities of aquatic macrophytes that can negatively impact their ecological value and recreational use. Such conditions tend to be fairly common in the Northeast region of the United States since there are far more shallow lakes than deep ones.

In addition to sunlight reaching the bottom, shallow lakes – as well as deeper lakes – can also experience planktonic (freely floating in the water column) algal blooms. Essentially, the more nutrients, such as nitrogen and, in particular, phosphorus, in the water column, the more algae that can grow in the open waters. Some algae, such as blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) can produce nasty and unpleasant surface scums when nutrient concentrations are high. Thus, in shallow lakes there is interplay between rooted aquatic vegetation and mat algae (the macrophytes) vs. the free floating planktonic algae. The more nutrients in the water column, the more planktonic algae present; the lower the nutrient concentrations, the clearer the water and the more aquatic macrophytes. Of the two shallow lake conditions, most lake management programs lean toward the clear water condition with more macrophytes since it is easier to manage for recreational use. However, whether you have a shallow or deep lake, the foundation of any effective, long-term lake management program is to minimize its nutrient load.

Nutrient Loading in Shallow Lakes

Graphic adapted from

Check back for our coming discussion of the difference between natural lakes and artificial impoundments. For more information, please feel free to contact me at