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Dr. Paul Bukaveckas takes sediment samples from the James River with the help of doctoral student Joe Wood.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH
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Date published: 9/16/2012
HOPEWELL--As researcher Paul Bukaveckas worked from a boat, the James River teemed with life. Unseen, unwanted life.
The river abounded with microscopic cells of algae, which can foul the water and, in some cases, sicken people and animals with toxins.
The algae outbreak, or bloom, was hard to see. In fact, the James looked lovely on this late August morning, its waters glassy under an overcast sky.
"Up here, you are having algal blooms all the time, whether you see them or not," said Bukaveckas, 52, a Virginia Commonwealth University river ecologist.
The tidal James has a huge algae problem, one of the worst in the Chesapeake Bay region, and Virginia officials say it could cost the public more than $2 billion to get the algae under control.
To better understand why the James is such an algae factory, and to get ideas on how to solve the problem, the state is putting up about $3 million for Bukaveckas and other scientists to conduct a three-year study. The research began this summer.
The study will examine how prevalent algae are in the tidal James, how dangerous they are and what causes them to flourish, among other things.
In the salty James at Hampton Roads, about 110 miles downriver from Richmond, harmful algae are often large enough to see when they break out--in so-called red or mahogany tides.
Algae are smaller in the James' tidal, freshwater reaches, from Richmond to just below Hopewell. Sometimes the tiny cells join in visible clumps or chains, but more often they thrive unseen during warm months.
From May through September, Bukaveckas said, the James around Hopewell is home to one big algae outbreak.
The James is high in pollution from human and animal waste and fertilizers, and the pollution feeds the algae.
Seeking to reduce algae, Virginia adopted specific limits in 2005 on chlorophyll levels--algae indicators--in the tidal James.
Today, Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration says it could cost $2 billion or more to reduce pollution enough to meet those limits.
The money would be spent on making sewage-treatment plants, farms and other polluters--already involved in expensive cleanups to restore the Chesapeake Bay--get even cleaner.
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