Expert Editorial: Try Non-Chemical Algae Control for Winery Replenishment Waters


Winegrowers and vineyard owners need to understand how harmful algal blooms can impact their business and how they can implement best practices to address the environmental issues they cause.

By Lawrence Field

With rising global temperatures, wineries are struggling with algal blooms in irrigation and retention ponds; pumps and filters are clogged, irrigation flow is disrupted, and extra care must be taken to ensure clean water harvesting. From health and safety threats, the destruction of our environment, and regulatory and economic challenges, the negative impacts resulting from uncontrolled algae and biofilm are becoming increasingly extreme. Threats to human and animal health are increasing as harmful algal blooms release harmful toxins that can be ingested not only orally but also inhaled.

Algal blooms can harm humans and wildlife. [iStock]
Algal blooms can harm humans and wildlife. [iStock]

Algae filter cleaning is a tedious and time-consuming process for vineyards and wineries. It’s also a problem that won’t go away on its own. Winegrowers and vineyard owners need to understand how harmful algal blooms can impact their business and how they can implement best practices to address the environmental issues they cause.

Identifying the problem

The threat of algal blooms extends to irrigation systems on three fronts. First, spraying vines or other crops with algae-infested water can spread cyanotoxins and endanger human health and wildlife. Second, if growers are forced to purge large volumes of algae-infested water before irrigating, water-use efficiency drops into what is already a delicate balance in water-deprived areas. water. And third, algae can clog irrigation pipes and require field personnel to remove clogs and closely monitor systems.

Water consumption goes far beyond irrigation, extending to the use of water in the winemaking process. Producing just five ounces of wine can consume 34 gallons of water. This water is used to clean and sanitize equipment and can be used as an additive in the winemaking process. The waste water must eventually be discharged.

Aerial panorama of the vineyard and the pond. [iStock]
Aerial panorama of the vineyard and the pond. [iStock]

As a result, wineries take on the responsibility for water treatment, much like a wastewater treatment plant, but on a smaller scale. Water transferred and stored in lagoons or small ponds can form algae, especially in warmer climates and when nearby fields are fertilized with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Algae and the harmful toxins they produce must be removed before the water is discharged and reused.

States like California have passed legislation that imposes strict limits and financial penalties on wineries that discharge harmful contaminants into natural waterways. Harmful algal blooms are a major environmental problem in all 50 states, driven by increasing nutrient pollution, making them likely to occur more often, in more bodies of water, and to be more intense.

New technology offers a holistic approach

Over the past decade, ultrasonic technology (using sound waves to disrupt the development of algae mats) has demonstrated its value as a solution to better manage algae.

With ultrasonic solutions, sound waves travel through the water to target algae, and the correct frequencies will cause structural resonance, disrupting the algae’s buoyancy and ability to engage in photosynthesis. The teams of experts who operate these systems typically spend hundreds or thousands of hours studying algae, empirically understanding the most effective ultrasonic frequency ranges and the best placement of devices for a given body of water.

The success of this technique was tempered at first, as early products had a limited number of emitted frequencies, which worked to destroy some variants of algae but left many others to continue to spread. Today, the latest generation of ultrasound systems transmit over 2,000 frequencies, so the effect is an order of magnitude greater, making these systems highly viable remedies that present a much safer and more effective against chemical solutions (including copper sulphate).

A close up of blooming green algae. [iStock]
A close up of blooming green algae. [iStock]

It is estimated that about 95% of the 70,000 species (and 2 million subspecies) of algae are affected by ultrasound. This technique has proven to be a very effective and much safer way to remove the widest range of algae, including cyanobacteria. More often than not, the technology will prevent an algae bloom and keep it from spreading further.

A holistic approach to long-term algae mitigation has proven to be the most sustainable complement to ultrasonic solutions and includes tools such as aeration systems, beneficial bacteria, and in some situations even use limited amount of algaecides (at least initially and in limited quantities), to remedy collectively and more quickly the real threat of these destructive blooms.

Now is the time for grape growers, grape growers, irrigation and pond managers to take action to ensure water safety and quality while minimizing the use of chemicals, reducing the costs of operating and complying with compliance regulations.

Lawrence Field is CEO and Founder of WaterIQ Technologiesan algae mitigation company specializing in ultrasonic solutions that reduce or eliminate the need for chemicals and other costly or largely ineffective solutions.


Elisha A. Tilghman