MATC Students Create System to Remove Algae from Lakes

Method that aims to slurp up surface-level algae, along with water, and route the liquid back into the lake while imprisoning the muck in a dumpster on shore

When it comes to cleaning up algae, raking doesn’t work. The paint-like green goop slips through the tines. It leaves the big question facing Madison beaches — how to make the water less disgusting and dangerous when algae is carried onto the beaches by prevailing winds and currents — lacking reliable answers.

Those algal blooms, caused by the silt and other runoff that flows into the lakes, have become so bad in recent years that beaches have frequently been closed.

This summer, another method will get its audition, with starring roles in its design and development played by engineering students at Madison Area Technical College. It aims to slurp up surface-level algae, along with water, and route the liquid back into the lake while imprisoning the muck in a dumpster on shore.

“Think of it like an algae lawnmower,” said Jason Yogerst, who grew up on Lake Waubesa and has not-fond memories of kayaking through pea soup.

Yogerst, who plans to transfer to UW-Madison to finish his degree in materials science and nanotechnology, was one of the lead students in a group of about 25 in Ken Walz’s engineering class at MATC, also known as Madison College. The class involves groups of students partnering with an outside client to design, build and implement a solution to a real-world problem.

The group’s task: dream up a better algae-removal system. The students were hired by the Clean Lakes Alliance, a Madison-based nonprofit, and given a $5,000 budget.

After a semester of tinkering, they settled on a system that was recently on display at the North Side school’s parking lot. It will get its tryout starting in late June, when algae blooms tend to start in earnest, at Warner Park Beach on Lake Mendota’s north shore, among the goopiest of beaches on the four lakes of the Yahara River chain.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for years,” said Richard Lathrop, a retired DNR scientist with an honorary position at UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology. “This project is really moving the whole issue forward. The students have done an amazing job.”

Lathrop developed another algae-management system, placing fabric-covered Styrofoam booms around the perimeter of beach areas, to some benefit.

The students’ system starts with a floating metal platform, to be pushed through the muck using an attached handle. An intake tube sits below the platform, attached to a 20-foot hose that leads to a high-powered pump on shore. Another 100-foot hose donated by the Madison Fire Department leads from the pump to a large dumpster, where a mesh screen separates liquid from sludge. Water goes out, back to where it came. Sludge remains.

The device takes two people to operate and can be transported on a trailer from site to site.

Paul Dearlove is watershed project manager for Clean Lakes Alliance and worked with the students on the project. He pointed out that, if it works, the project will only treat the symptoms as a larger effort works to reduce pollution and runoff that are the root causes of the region’s water-quality problems.

“This is an opportunity for us to make beaches cleaner and easier for the public to use,” Dearlove said.

The method will be expanded to other beaches in future years if it’s effective in its limited run.

Source: Wisconsin State Journal

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