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New high-tech buoy will help monitor Buffalo Pound Lake water quality

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Saskatchewan’s Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant will be changing its monitoring equipment this coming summer with the purchase of a new sensor-loaded “superbuoy” that can measure elements critical to the nearby lake’s ecology, and in particular, troubleshoot algal blooms.

Dr. Helen Baulch, University of Saskatchewan (USask) associate professor at the School of Environment and Sustainability, says that because Buffalo Pound Lake is so shallow, algae growth and water temperature can change quickly, so the purchase of the $250,000 high-tech buoy will give plant operators the chance to view the lake’s ecology remotely, all while advancing lake science.

Rapid changes such as large temperature variations between upper and lower lake levels can cause major problems for the plant that supplies potable water to Regina, Moose Jaw and nearby areas, covering about 260,000 residents.

“The plant operators have seen those changes affect their operations, and our research collaboration has really helped troubleshoot and anticipate some of those changes,” Dr. Baulch said in an announcement from USask.

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Dr. Baulch, also USask’s Centennial Enhancement Chair in Aquatic Ecosystem Biogeochemistry, says the buoy’s cutting-edge sensors can more accurately measure carbon dioxide that’s important to lake ecology. It also boasts cameras with telemetry so that operators can monitor the lake surface for scum.

The water plant has had a less sophisticated monitoring buoy in place for some eight years, but it is in need of replacement, particularly as climate change and changes to land use “are putting unprecedented pressure on prairie aquatic systems,” Baulch noted, particularly when it comes to harmful cyanobacterial blooms.

Baulch spent a few months consulting with British Columbia-based supplier Hoskin Scientific Ltd. to design elements of the new buoy, including enabling some sensors to be nestled in a metal cage under lake ice to provide year-round monitoring.

For Blair Kardash, manager of laboratory and research at the water treatment plant, the partnership with Baulch underlines the value of academic-industrial cooperation. The purchase of the new buoy came through a partnership between USask and the Buffalo plant’s board of directors in Regina and Moose Jaw.

“We want to support Dr. Baulch’s continued research in limnology (the study of lakes) at Buffalo Pound. In doing so, we also get the benefit of having real-time monitoring for rapid changes in water quality, as well as the benefits from her long-time research on cyanobacteria,” Kardash said in a statement.

The importance of sensor monitoring can also be highlighted by a situation in the spring of 2015 when thermal stratification in Buffalo Pound Lake affected water clarifiers in the plant, cutting treatment capacity in half, and leading to an emergency water restriction in Moose Jaw and Regina.

Baulch and Kardash have since developed “decision trees” on how to use sensor data to adapt plant operations during periods of stratification extremes, and to advise cities to have enough water in their reservoirs to ride out any potential treatment slowdowns.

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