Viticulturists and vineyard owners need to understand how harmful algae blooms can impact their business and how they can implement best practices to solve the environmental problems caused by them.
By Lawrence Field
With global temperatures rising, wineries are grappling with algae overgrowth in irrigation and holding ponds; pumps and filters are clogged, irrigation flow is disrupted, and extra care must be taken to ensure clean water reclamation. From threats to health and safety, to destruction of our environment, and to regulatory and economic challenges, the negative impacts resulting from uncontrolled algae and biofilm are becoming more extreme. Threats to human and animal health are increasing as harmful algae blooms release harmful toxins that can be ingested not just orally but also inhaled.
Filter cleaning due to algae is a cumbersome, time-consuming process for vineyards and wineries. It’s also a problem that won’t go away by itself. Viticulturists and vineyard owners need to understand how harmful algae blooms can impact their business and how they can implement best practices to solve the environmental problems caused by them.
Identifying the problem
The threat of algal blooms extends to irrigation systems on three fronts. First, spraying vines or other crops with algae-infested water can spread cyanotoxins and endanger human health and wildlife. Second, if viticulturists are forced to purge large volumes of algae-infested water before irrigating, water use efficiency drops in what is already a delicate balance in water-deprived areas. And third, algae can clog irrigation pipes and require field staff to remove clogs and closely monitor systems.
Water consumption goes well beyond irrigation, extending to water use in the wine making process. Producing just five ounces of wine can consume 34 gallons of water. This water is used to clean and sanitize equipment and can be used as an additive in the winemaking process. The used water must eventually be released.
As a result, wineries are taking on the responsibility for water treatment, much like a wastewater treatment plant, but at a smaller scale. Water transferred and stored in lagoons or small ponds can form algae, especially in warmer climates and where nearby fields are fertilized with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Algae and the harmful toxins it produces must be eliminated before the water is discharged and reused.
States such as California have passed legislation that places strict limits and financial penalties on wineries discharging harmful contaminants back into natural waterways. Harmful algal blooms are a major environmental problem in all 50 states, driven by increasing nutrient pollution, which makes them likely to occur more often, in more water bodies, and to be more intense.
New Technology Offers Holistic Approach
Over the past decade or so, ultrasonic technology (using sound waves to disrupt developing algal mats) has been demonstrating its worth as a solution to better manage algae.
With ultrasonic solutions, sound waves travel through water to target algae, and the right frequencies will cause structural resonance, disrupting algae’s buoyancy and its ability to engage in photosynthesis. The expert teams managing these systems typically spend hundreds or thousands of hours studying algae, empirically understanding the most effective ultrasonic frequency ranges and the best placement of appliances for a given body of water.
Success of this technique was tempered in the beginning, as the first products had a limited number of frequencies emitted, which would work for destroying some algae variants but left many others to continue to spread. Today, the latest generation of ultrasonic systems transmit more than 2,000 frequencies, so the effect is an order of magnitude greater, making these systems highly viable remedies that present a much safer and more effective alternative to chemical solutions (including copper sulfate).
It’s been estimated that approximately 95 percent of the 70,000 species (and 2 million subspecies) of algae are affected by ultrasound. This technique has proven to be a highly effective and much safer way to eliminate the broadest range of algae, including cyanobacteria. Most often, the technology will preempt an algae bloom and keep it from spreading further.
A holistic approach to long-term algae mitigation has proven to be the most sustainable complement to ultrasonic solutions and includes tools such as aeration systems, beneficial bacteria and, in certain situations, even limited use of algaecides (at least initially and in limited quantities), to remediate the real threat of these destructive blooms collectively and more rapidly.
Now is the time for viticulturists, winemakers, irrigation and pond managers to take action to ensure water safety and quality while minimizing the use of chemicals, lowering operational costs and meeting compliance regulations.
Lawrence Field is CEO and Founder of WaterIQ Technologies, an algae mitigation company specializing in ultrasonic solutions that reduce or eliminate the need for chemicals and other costly or largely ineffective solutions.