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High tech blue-green algae tracking in Colorado Springs

Posted at 4:36 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-31 13:22:15-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Fish in Pikeview Reservoir are safe from a fishing boat heading across the small reservoir on a late October morning. The two men on board are Environmental Specialists with Colorado Springs Utilities. Their mission is to bring in a high-tech tool helping in the battle against the potential toxic blue-green algae that caused safety warnings at the reservoir over the summer.

The tool is called a sonde. The simple definition is a probe that detects and transmits data from underwater or underground.

The blue-green algae appearance is part of the motivation for Colorado Springs Utilties to invest in the sonde technology. "To keep these reservoirs clean and monitored and beautiful because they're a community asset,” said Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) Science Lead, Jennifer Sullivan.

The sonde spent the summer about four feet below the surface of Pikeview Reservoir. “The great thing about it, is it actually delivers and gives us all the data every 10 minutes,” said CSU Environmental Specialist, Ron Clark. The device is powered by solar panels above the water. It is a couple feet long and close to six inches in diameter with six smaller diameter probes on its tip that all read and transmit different information. “We had a custom website built for us so we can see that data—we can inspect all the different parameters.

“These blooms, because they’re bacteria…they multiply quickly,” said Sullivan. The sonde is a way to respond and more effectively counter the algae. “It can trigger us to come out here and pull a sample.” A faster response increases ability to better manage the algae.

The sonde comes out for winter to protect it from water turning to ice. The freeze also kills off the blue-green algae.

The sonde’s addition to Colorado Springs Utilities starts first goal is proactively working to manage and stop the blue-green algae. "What we're excited about is the long-term benefits of having all this data and correlating it with what we're seeing in the lab and what we're seeing out on the reservoir," said Sullivan. At the same time the technology offers a lot more information that helps monitor and maintain clean healthy water in the CSU system.