A SATELLITE-BASED early detection scheme for blue-green algae, valued at $1.3 million, is now underway.
The project, a joint effort from the NSW government and the CSIRO, will use optical remote sensing techniques to identify algal blooms.
NSW Water Minister Kevin Humphries said while current algae monitoring methods are reliable, they have a lag time of several days.
The new system would provide real time warnings, he said.
“The idea is that once a model is appropriately tested against on-ground water sampling, satellite imagery will be used to identify and track algal levels in water bodies, providing early warning of potential harmful algal blooms,” Mr Humphries said.
“The new warning system will be designed so that it can be used with a range of remote sensors - such as satellites, planes, boats, bridges and buoys - and for different water sources.”
The project, to be developed over two years, is aimed at reducing the impact of blooms on health, environment and regional economies.
According to the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's inland waterways are vulnerable to outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae.
Blue-green algae feeds on nitrogen and phosphorus, which can come from a wide range of sources, including sewage, fertiliser run-off and animal faecal matter.
The algae thrives when slow river flows combine with warm temperatures, often as a result of high water extraction and low rainfall, CSIRO said.
Contact with blue-green algae can be harmful. There have been reports of skin and eye irritations, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness or cramps by some people who have swum through algal scum or swallowed it.
Blue-green algae blooms can also cause death of livestock, domestic animals and wildlife, bad odours, fish kills, closure of water storages for drinking or recreational use and higher water treatment costs.
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