Prospect Park tackles its toxic algae
This Earth Week, Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit organization that sustains Brooklyn’s Backyard in partnership with the city, debuted its ecoWEIR pilot program in Prospect Park.
This innovative natural filtration system, designed by a Brooklyn College professor, helps to remove nutrients from Prospect Park’s watercourse that cause toxic blue-green algae blooms in the summer months, which are dangerous when in contact with pets and humans.
The pilot program, the first in an urban park, is funded by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through a $390,000 grant. The program takes its name from a “weir,” a man-made barrier or dam that is designed to limit or alter, although not to stop, the flow of water.
“We are so grateful to our partners at New York State Parks for their support of innovative, environmentally sustainable ways for Prospect Park Alliance to sustain our natural areas,” said Sue Donoghue, president of the Prospect Park Alliance. “From their funding of goats to remove invasive plants in our woodland areas to our ecoWEIR pilot program, New York State Parks has always been responsive and forward-thinking in their efforts to support this urban wonder.”
While the park is a natural wonderland, many people are not aware that Prospect Park’s lake, pools, waterfalls and streams are fed by the New York City water supply. Phosphates in the water, which make it safe for us to drink, lead to excessive algae growth. This algae growth limits resources for other plant life and wildlife, which is detrimental to the health of the park’s waterways.
Phosphates in the water also produce blooms of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Certain types of cyanobacteria produce toxins that can pose a health risk for humans and animals. Skin contact can cause rashes or eye irritation, while ingestion can cause more serious effects. These blooms have led to closing areas of the Prospect Park Lake that were previously available for dogs to swim due to concerns over exposure.
In 2020, the Alliance installed ecoWEIRs at two locations in the park, near Dog Beach (where city water enters the watercourse). The aim of this system is to reduce phosphates, thereby reducing excessive algae growth. The filtration system and its results are being monitored over the course of multiple seasons to determine if the pilot study is a success.
In addition to enhancing the health and resilience of Prospect Park Lake, this project provides an opportunity to educate the public about water health. If successful, the Prospect Park ecoWEIR project will be replicable in parks nationwide.
Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said, “New York State Parks is grateful for this innovative stewardship project led by Prospect Park Alliance. Lakes, pools, waterfalls and streams are so often the scenic and recreational centerpieces of our parks. This project will help restore the water quality at Prospect Park, while offering lessons that may be applied to other parks that are also threatened by excessive algae growth.”
“The innovative ecoWEIR pilot program is a fantastic way to help manage the harmful algal blooms that pose a threat to pets and humans alike. We are grateful to New York State Parks and Brooklyn College for lending their support to this program,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “Efforts like this help make our parks safer and more environmentally sustainable for generations to come.”
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of Prospect Park to our Borough and our city, and I am proud to support New York State’s efforts to recognize this with the financial and technical support the Park requires to operate as an oasis and refuge for millions,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll. “I am also proud that Prospect Park will pilot the use of the new ecoWeirs technology to keep the park’s water system healthy for wildlife, pets and residents—Brooklyn just keeps on leading in every way!”
“We are excited that Brooklyn College and Professor Jennifer Cherrier were able to partner with the Prospect Park Alliance and New York State Parks on this important project,” said Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson. “Professor Cherrier’s expertise in the world of aquatic sciences and water resource sustainability is well known. The fact that she is able to also include students in her research to enhance this iconic space cherished by all in Brooklyn makes it even more special.”
The pilot will run through December 2021.
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