Home Wine Business Editorial Viticulture Expert Editorial: Mitigating Algae Contamination in the Water

Expert Editorial: Mitigating Algae Contamination in the Water

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The algal mitigation tools of yesterday no longer work. 

By Lawrence Field

According to High Country News, an independent media organization that covers the important issues and stories that define the Western United States, “California’s algae blooms are like a ‘wildfire in the water.’”  

This could describe most of the world’s water bodies, which are facing massive water contamination due to excess inputs of nutrients and weather patterns that are culling and distributing those excess nutrients. For California’s vineyards, this makes producing a great wine even harder.

To make an exceptional wine, you need a thriving vineyard. To create a thriving vineyard, you need excellent water to irrigate beautiful vines. Water contamination is threatening the health of vineyards in Napa Valley and other parts of California, requiring excessive costs and exceptional actions to control the problems. The challenge is compounded by both the need to comply with environmental regulation and vineyard owners’ focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship.    

The problem is everywhere

The Napa Valley River is currently on the EPA’s list of impaired water bodies and is required to monitor and test for maximum daily loads of nutrient pollution as part of the Clean Water Act. There are also large lake storage facilities in Napa Valley that contain source water for local irrigation ponds; today, every major reservoir is currently dealing with excess algae issues. 

Regulation by the state of California also extends to the effluent ponds on vineyards, used to process water after the grapes are pressed, as the ponds could contain an overabundance of suspended solids. High numbers of solids could result in increased algae in the water. Due to these regulations, it is becoming more difficult each year to determine what kind of discharge levels can be released back into the environment or into local water bodies. 

An abundance of algae is also impacting irrigation system performance by clogging the lines and slowing the flow of water. This water contamination is caused, in part, by excessive inputs of nutrients, primarily phosphorus and nitrogen, which stimulates the growth of harmful algae. For example, when agricultural fertilizer is not being fully utilized by the plants, the excess chemicals run off downstream, which affects the quality of water that is applied to vineyards. 

Algae is detrimental to the economics of the wine industry and has a negative impact on the environment. This is forcing vineyards to look for more sustainable approaches to combating algae while maintaining operational efficiency and meeting brand and revenue goals — not to mention following federal and state regulations. 

Traditionally, vineyards have used aeration to mitigate algae. While this is effective at mixing and circulating the water, aeration alone does not kill algae or solve the problem. Algaecides have also been used, which kill algae, but often also kill beneficial bacteria that’s essential to long-term water bodies and columns. Algaecides are also toxic to humans as they contain copper sulfate. 

Looking to the Future

The mitigation tools of yesterday no longer work. Remediating algae is different and distinct from treating fungicides. To solve the algae problem, the root cause needs to be addressed, and vineyards need to look beyond aeration and chemicals. It starts with algae, and the algae blooms that are triggered by excess nutrients and runoff compounded by high sun loading and leaching of nutrients from source lands. 

Today algae can be targeted, and beneficial bacteria can remain intact with ultrasound technology. New generation ultrasonic technologies are a leap beyond the first systems that came to market more than two decades ago. The latest systems transmit more than 4,400 frequencies and ensure that the proper and most effective resonance is applied to emerging or well-established algal blooms. 

The applied frequencies emit ultrasonic sound waves that travel through the water only and cause both structural and fatal damage to the targeted blooms, including harmful cyanobacteria. Some of these frequencies are adept at rupturing gas vacuoles or vesicles (such as those found in blue green algae); others are effective at breaking the cell wall bonds or interfering with the algae and biofilm reproductive cycles.

The resulting effect is an order of magnitude greater compared to previous generation products. This makes ultrasonic algae mitigation an excellent preventive platform and an environmentally safe and active remedy to HABs. It also makes them a much safer and more effective alternative to chemical solutions, including copper sulfate.

It has been estimated that approximately 95% of the 70,000 species and 2 million subspecies of algae can be efficiently mitigated with ultrasound. This approach has been proven to be highly effective in vineyard holding ponds, irrigation systems and thousands of lakes, ponds and other water repositories at addressing a broad range of algae and cyanobacteria. These systems are a chemical-free solution, are safe to use and do not upset the ecological balance of the environment. After deployment, observers will see an instant defense against algae to keep its growth at bay. For those with an active area of cyanobacteria growth, there will be a rapid decline, with a significant reduction – typically within 30 days.

Ultrasonic algae control example

Santellan Vineyards is a winery in Paso Robles, Calif.,  with a 2-acre-foot irrigation pond that contained algae including rhizoclonium and aphanocapsa along with duckweed. Using ultrasonic algae control technology, the winery started seeing results after 30 days and the pond was clear after 60 days.

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Many viticulturists are trying to make a difference in the industry by being stewards of the environment. There is no better time for them to take action to ensure water safety and quality while minimizing the use of chemicals, lowering operational costs and meeting compliance regulations.

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Lawrence Field is the CEO of WaterIQ Technologies, and a partner of Advanced Viticulture. For more information, visit https://advancedvit.com

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