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Hydropower and fish: reporting on a Brussels workshop

July 21, 2017

Combining hydropower production and fish migration in four Archimedes screws at the Ham hydropower plant on the Albert Canal in Belgium. Image: Hans-Petter Fjeldstad.

A guest post by Hans-Petter Fjeldstad, a research scientist at SINTEF Energy in Norway.

Increased awareness of ecological issues in rivers with regulated water flows calls for better international understanding about how the hydropower industry might be made more ‘environmentally friendly’ through policy and practice.

Earlier this year, at the end of May, a workshop was held in Brussels to discuss these issues, organised by the International Energy Agency Hydropower Technology Collaboration Programme and the European Commission Directorate General for Research and Innovation.

Entitled ‘Hydropower and Fish – Research and Innovation in the context of the European Policy Framework‘, the workshop was organised to address the European research and legislation relevant for hydropower production and to highlight its impacts on fish populations in regulated rivers. In addition to presentations and discussions, delegates undertook a field visit to the Ham hydropower plant on the Albert Canal.

Workshop themes

Where do we go from here?” This was the question posed by Piotr Tulej, the head of the DG RTD Unit at the European Commission, in his opening speech at the workshop. Speaking to 80 representatives from 21 European countries, with expertise in water management, research, policy, manufacturing and industry, his speech outlined some of the key issues in contemporary water management and hydropower. On one hand, there is strong – and growing – demand for renewable energy across the world; on the other, fish ecology and riverine habitats are often strongly – and negatively – impacted by hydropower development.

The workshop brought together representatives from many large European research programmes, including as AMBER, FITHydro, Hyperbole, Sed-Net, LIFE and BioFresh. New innovations were presented, demonstrating the wide and important range of new technologies for ecosystem monitoring. Some of the more unusual and innovative techniques included data sampling using unmanned aircrafts and robotic fishes.

Another presentation highlighted that the role of storable hydropower in Europe may change as a result of the speed at which wind and solar energy has been adopted in the continent’s power network. More dynamic production schemes lead to rapid changes in river flow, which can have negative ecological impacts, such as habitat loss, particularly for fish. The consequences of such so-called hydropeaking was highlighted as a main future research area.

Other important research topics presented included strategies for ensuring the safe downstream migration of fishes past hydropower structures and turbines, and monitoring approaches to assess fish pass efficiency. Overall, there was a focus on river connectivity along entire catchments and river basins, instead of single, isolated projects.

Standardised monitoring and mitigation approaches

Discussions at the workshop highlighted the need for Europe-wide standardisation of monitoring programs and mitigation measures for hydropower impacts, in order to understand and assess the impacts of management actions. One key aspect of this is to develop standardised approaches to assess residual flows and environmental flows in rivers affected by hydropower developments. The expression “environmental requirements” must be emphasised, underlining that not only fish, but overall biodiversity, is important to fulfill the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).

In recent decades, a variety of modelling tools have been developed to describe the different impacts from hydropower on fish. One important message from the workshop was that modelling tools should be included in the management models in order to achieve realistic goals. Such approaches need to be scalable from single topic models to holistic analyses of large river catchments. This is crucial because many fishes migrate over long distances across political and management borders. Discussions also emphasised the importance of implementing existing research and available knowledge on hydropower impacts.

Balancing perspectives on water management for hydropower and fish

Overall, discussions at the workshop highlighted that future research, policy and management on hydropower and fish must seek to find a balance between renewable energy production, and the ecological health and status of impacted rivers in Europe.

Panel discussions suggested that reductions in hydropower production are often expensive to governments – as hydropower is one of the most efficient ways to generate electricity – and may cause shifts to fossil fuel methods of energy production. While negative ecological impacts from hydropower on fish are highly pronounced across Europe, the closing panel debate emphasised that scientific researchers, water managers and the hydropower industry must establish better long-term relationships together in order to mitigate ecological impacts.

One outcome of such collaboration could be common criteria and rating or indexes for viable fish populations in regulated rivers, and handbooks for assessing and implementing mitigating measures in order to obtain “good ecological status or potential” according to the WFD. Future workshops are proposed to continue discussions on these important topics.

The politics of biodiversity and hydropower on ‘Europe’s last wild river’

July 11, 2017

The Vjosa River in Albania, Europe’s ‘last wild river’. Image: Gernot Kunz

After 20 years of postponement, an unfinished hydropower construction on the Vjosa River in Albania was cancelled earlier this year. The Vjosa is Europe’s last ‘wild’ large river, flowing entirely unobstructed through inaccessible gorges and enormous gravel banks and islands on a course of almost 270 kilometers from the Pindus Mountains to the Adriatic Sea. However, the river system is currently the subject of a number of hydropower constructions, which potentially threaten its rich – but little researched – biodiversity.

The cancellation of the Kalivaç project in May was seen as positive news by environmental NGOs such as the Austrian-based RiverWatch who have long campaigned against hydropower developments on the Vjosa. However, shortly afterwards, the Albanian Ministry of Energy and Industry opened procedures for construction companies to tender for renewed hydropower construction at the site before 18th July.

“The cancellation of the existing contract – which makes the Vjosa legally free from any hydropower plans – offers a real chance to declare the Vjosa to the first Wild River National Park in Europe. Nonetheless, the government has decided to re-open the concession procedure, against the will of local authorities and communities, national and international stakeholders. We will vigorously fight against this project and for a dam-free Vjosa”, says Olsi Nika from EcoAlbania, coordinator of the Vjosa campaign in Albania.


The unfinished Kalivaç hydropower construction on the Vjosa River. Image: Roland Dorozhani

The Kalivaç hydropower project was accepted in 1997. Construction of the 45 metre high dam began in 2007, but was only a third completed before the project was cancelled, leaving the river flows largely unimpaired. Environmental scientists and campaigners fear that renewed hydropower construction will threaten poorly documented aquatic biodiversity in the Vjosa.

Proposals for another major hydropower construction on the Vjosa, downstream of the Kalivaç site at Poçem were overturned by judges at the Albanian Administrative Court in Tirana in late May. One of the key reasons that the Poçem construction was overruled was due to an insufficient Environmental Impact Assessment on the effects of the hydropower plant on the river ecosystem.

Vjosa No Dams Protest

Local residents and environmental NGOs protest against hydropower development on the Vjosa. Image: Oblak Aljaz

The overruling of the Poçem construction – which is likely to be challenged – was the result of a lawsuit filed in December 2016 by environmental NGOs and local residents, who claimed there had been insufficient public consultation on the impacts of hydropower.

“This decision shows the importance of fighting disputed hydropower projects on a legal level – not only in Albania but in the entire Balkan region. Many – if not most – of the 2700 projected hydropower plans in the Balkans contradict national and European legislation. We will prepare further legal actions against projects that we perceive as unlawful”, outlines EuroNatur CEO Gabriel Schwaderer, one of the key proponents of the lawsuit.

Vjosa press conference

Scientists hold a press conference on a gravel island in the Vjosa. Image: Jens Steingässer

A month before the cancellations (or at least, postponement) of the Kalivaç and Poçem projects, a group of 25 aquatic scientists held a press conference in an unusual setting on the river –  a large gravel island near the village of Kutë, which would be flooded if the Poçem scheme went ahead.

The scientists reported on a week of intensive research on the Vjosa’s biodiversity and hydromorphology, about which there is currently very little information. They found that animal and plant species which have long disappeared in European rivers are still abundant at the Vjosa. In addition, they confirmed that the river transports huge quantities of sediment, which is likely to mean that any hydropower reservoirs would be clogged with deposited sediments within decades.

As a result, significant research is necessary to project – and potentially prevent – future impacts on the Vjosa’s biodiversity, water flows and flood and erosion dynamics from hydropower. Prof. Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana explains, “The Poçem project not only puts the river section at Kutë at risk, but negatively affects the entire downstream river course all the way to the mouth, including the Narta Lagoon. This has not yet been assessed at all. This week’s initiative should be seen as merely a start. In order to properly assess the actual impacts of the projected hydropower plant, a three-year research program is indispensable.”

Cicindela sp. (Sandlaufkäfer) (c) Gernot Kunz

A rare species of tiger beetle, discovered by scientists on a Vjosa beach. Image:

There is currently a ‘hydropower boom’ taking place across the Balkans. A 2015 RiverWatch study (pdf link) suggested that there are 2,683 hydropower projects proposed across the region, with 8 projects proposed for the Albanian stretch of the Vjosa River and 23 more on its tributaries. Some of these projects are proposed in existing national park protected areas across the Balkans (pdf link).

The Vjosa is clearly a valuable river, but the type of value it offers – and how it might be used – is hotly debated. The Vjosa is a rare – if not unique – example of a largely unmodified European river system, which supports both rich biodiversity (its watershed includes populations of the rare Balkan lynx) and low-impact agriculture, livestock farming and fishing.

However, it also provides huge hydropower potential for the Albanian government to exploit. At present, hydropower is the country’s only domestic source of electricity, providing 80% of its total energy, and generating as much as 10% of its annual GDP (pdf link).

“Domestic electricity demand is constantly rising, which means we need to increase our power-generating capacity,” suggested Dardan Malaj, a communications advisor at the Albanian Ministry of Energy and Industry, in a Revolve Water interview in 2016. “Moreover, foreign investors are mainly interested in the country’s energy sector and Albania really needs those investments.”

Vjosa Braided Channels

Braided channels on the Vjosa River. Image: Gregor Subic

Across the Balkans, hydropower projects are being promoted under the logic of ‘green energy’ production, underpinned by large investments from European banks. A 2015  report by industry watchdog BankWatch (pdf link), found that outside investments of hundreds of millions of euro were supporting hydropower constructions across the region. For example, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provided €240m to 51 Balkan hydropower projects named in the Bankwatch report, nearly half of which were in protected areas.

“What we have here in the Balkans at the moment is a gold rush on the rivers,” says Ulrich Eichelmann, the director of RiverWatch, told The Guardian in 2015. “I sometimes think the western countries that are financially supporting this degradation process have no idea what they are destroying. There is nothing in Europe remotely like this [the Vjosa] river system.”

There have been a number of prominent political objections hydropower development on the Vjosa. In April 2016, the European Parliament called for stricter controls on the  development of hydropower plants on the Vjosa, recommending that Environmental Impact Assessments should meet EU standards. In May 2016, the vice-president of the European Parliament, Ulrike Lunacek, joined a group of around 100 environmentalists, kayakers and journalists from across Europe to protest against the hydropower constructrions on the Vjosa. In February 2017, the mayors of five areas along the Vjosa valley wrote an open letter (pdf link) to the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, calling for hydropower developments on the river to be stopped.

Vjosa floodplain

The wide floodplain and braided channels of the – as yet unaltered – Vjosa River. Image: Gregor Subic

However, the issue of hydropower construction on the Vjosa is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Ironically, perhaps, the Vjosa is a prime example of a river system in ‘good ecological status’, as defined by the EU Water Framework Directive. Given that Albania is currently a candidate for accession to European Union membership, should hydropower construction go ahead, then any future EU membership may require the Vjosa’s ecosystem to be subsequently restored, most likely at great expense.

What is clear is that the form and future of the Vjosa river system is inextricably tied to wider political, energy and environmental interests and currents. We’ll keep you updated with what happens next.

Bloomin’ Algae: a citizen science app to track algal blooms

July 7, 2017
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The Bloomin’ Algae app’s algae ID guide. Image: CEH

Blooms of blue-green algae can occur through the summer and early autumn in UK lakes and slow flowing rivers, particularly when nutrient concentrations are high, and there has been sunny, warm weather.

Whilst algal blooms occur naturally, they can be exacerbated by human pressures, particularly nutrient pollution. We have previously written about the negative ecological effects of algal blooms – such as hypoxia. However, some blooms may also produce toxins which are directly harmful to humans and animals.

A free new app called Bloomin’ Algae has been designed to allow people to record algal blooms in their local freshwater environments. The app, produced by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology with input from Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland, enables users to submit a photo of an algal bloom and note the recreational activities that takes place at its location.

These ‘citizen science‘ recordings of algal blooms are plotted on an interactive map, which allows water managers to track and mitigate their potential health risks to people and animals.

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An algal bloom on Loch Leven in Scotland. Image: CEH

Professor Laurence Carvalho, a freshwater ecologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (and MARS project partner) who specialises in the study of algal blooms and water quality, helped develop the app with his colleagues.

Professor Carvalho said, “Algal blooms can be a major health hazard as they commonly produce potent toxins that can result in people experiencing skin rashes, eye irritations, fever, muscle pain and worse. They can also be a significant hazard to animals; dog owners and farmers need to ensure their pets or livestock do not drink from waters affected by blue-green algae.

People can download the app from Android and Apple app stores and if they then come across an algal bloom, they can use the app to send us a photo and details of its location. We will then alert UK environment and health agencies so they can take appropriate action.”

Blue-green algae are microscopic but can clump together in ‘colonies’ up to a few millimetres in size during blooms. These colonies can rise to the surface to form thin wispy green blooms or thick paint-like scums. Algal blooms which pose a toxic health risk to humans and animals are known as ‘harmful algal blooms’ or ‘HABS’.

Mr Kazlauskis, the mobile developer on the project, said, “The app offers an algal guide to help people familiarise themselves with what an algal bloom looks like. Due to integration with the Biological Record Centre’s iRecord system, all verified records can easily be viewed on the Bloomin’ Algae interactive map.”


The Bloomin’ Algae app gives users visual references for identifying algal blooms, and a platform to geolocate them. Image: CEH

The Bloomin’ Algae app allows water managers and scientists to track and manage potentially-harmful algal blooms in UK freshwaters, and to provide subsequent ‘early warning’ messages to the public about sites which may pose a health risk.

In addition, it is hoped to provide an ongoing geographical indication of the different users of freshwater environments – anglers, walkers, birdwatchers and so on – and how their activities are affected by algal blooms.


Download Bloomin’ Algae for Apple and Android devices.

Find out more about iRecord on the Biological Record Centre website.

Untangling multiple pressure impacts in Swedish boreal streams

July 4, 2017

A Swedish boreal stream. Image: mrdonb | Flickr Creative Commons

Freshwater ecosystems across the world are affected by multiple pressures acting in tandem, which can cause complex and unpredictable results for their health and diversity. As a result, the topic is a key focus for many aquatic scientists globally.

Human land use is an important driver of multiple pressures. Two common land-use pressures stem from agricultural activities and hydromorphological alterations. Agricultural activities can cause increased nutrient concentrations as a result of fertiliser run-off, cause sediment build-ups as a result of soil erosion, and alter ecosystem hydrology and connectivity through water abstraction.

Hydromorphological alterations are those which change the hydrology (i.e. water flows) and morphology (i.e. the shape, course and banks) of a river or lake. Hydromorphological alterations are commonly caused by the construction of flood defences, hydropower plants and drainage channels, and can significantly change the habitat quality and quantity available to aquatic organisms.

The multiple pressure impacts resulting from agricultural activity and hydromorphological alterations are the subject of a new study carried out on 77 streams in south-east Sweden. Writing in Ecological Indicators, scientists led by Richard K Johnson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala quantified multiple pressure impacts on the insect life in these boreal streams.

Using species and trait composition techniques on ecological monitoring data sampled between 2008 and 2013, the researchers report that agricultural and hydromorphological pressures had significant joint effects on invertebrate assemblages in the studied streams. They found that variability in invertebrate species and trait composition could be explained by variations in agricultural and hydromorphological pressures.

However, whilst changes in species composition were significantly related to agricultural impacts, the unique variance accounted for by hydromorphological variables was not significant for either species or traits. In short, it was difficult to disentangle the unique effects of agricultural and hydromorphological pressures from their multiple pressure ‘cocktail’.

As a result, the research team used multivariate regression, a data analysis method which allowed them to rank individual pressure impacts. They found that whilst agricultural pressures were the best predictors of both species and trait composition for the streams’ invertebrates, the negative impacts of hydromorphological pressures on their populations could be far more pronounced.

Disturbance of riparian habitats was a strong predictor of shifts in invertebrate species and trait composition. This finding has been reported by a number of other past studies (e.g. Gregory et al 1991 – pdf), as the removal of riparian zones often significantly alters stream food webs, shading and water temperature, which impact invertebrate populations.

Community responses were less pronounced at sites affected by both loss of riparian integrity and elevated nutrients, suggesting that negative hydromorphological pressure impacts were mitigated by moderate increases in nutrient concentrations from agricultural run-off.

In quantifying and ranking the impacts of both individual and combined multiple pressures, the study provides a valuable case study for water managers and policy makers seeking to design ecological restoration schemes. More broadly, it is another ‘building block’ in the global effort to gain knowledge on multiple pressure interactions and impacts.

Johnson RK et al (2017) Decomposing multiple pressure effects on invertebrate assemblages of boreal streams, Ecological Indicators, 77, 293-303

Protect the Eels

June 22, 2017

The European eel is one of the continent’s most remarkable and wide-ranging aquatic animals. Young eels (known as elvers) are born in the Sargasso Sea in the West Atlantic Ocean, and migrate back to European watercourses. Here, they mature and grow larger over a number of years, before making the journey back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn themselves.

However, European eel populations are subject to considerable threats. Some eel populations have dropped by over 90% across the continent in recent decades, largely as the result of overfishing and habitat loss. The European eel has been designated as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2008 as a result.

A new community-engaged animation has sought to tell the eel’s story, through the voices of children. Protect the Eels is a an animated journey into the hidden ecologies of the River Avon in south-west England, as told by the children of Victoria Park Primary School Bristol, using their drawings, ideas and voices.

The video was funded by the AHRC ‘Towards Hydrocitizenship‘ project (read our interview with project lead Owain Jones here). It was produced as part of Water City Bristol, supported by the ‘Sustainable Eel Group (SEG)‘, in association with NOVA, lead artists for Water City Bristol.

We spoke to project producer Lucy Izzard to find out more. She explained the background and working process for the animation, and how the primary school children helped bring eel conservation to life in Protect the Eels.


Lucy explains:

“I was contacted by Antony Lyons from NOVA Creative Lab (a creative consultancy for the research project “Water City Bristol”) about making an animation with two classes of pupils from Victoria Park Primary School in Bristol to explore the hidden ecologies of the River Avon. I thought it would be really lovely to make the film entirely from the children’s thoughts, comments and drawings then it becomes a real collaboration because the children are a major part of the film making process.

I and some of the NOVA artists did workshops with the classes which involved drawing & sound recorded sessions, role play in the playground and Skype calls between the children and ‘eel expert’ Andrew Kerr. We learnt a lot about eels along the way – me included! With all the voices and drawings collected from the workshops, I picked the bits that would help create a story about eels. There were so many great drawings, unfortunately I couldn’t use them all … but we did use a lot!

It was quite a lengthy process to make the kids drawings move – keeping the authenticity of the textures and pencil/pen marks is tricky but totally worth while in my opinion. I want the children to recognise their own drawings and feel proud and excited to see them come to life. After the visuals were finished, my business partner from our company ‘Pinch Me! Productions’ Laura added all the sound effects. We collected sound bites from the children during the workshop recording sessions to use for the characters in the film, such as “Are we that old?” The finished sound adds another dimension that suddenly makes everything come alive!

We gave the children and teachers their own film premiere in the cinema at Aardman Animations in Bristol (as I work there as a freelance animation director). I took my 2 week old baby along (it took the same amount of time to make the film as it did to make her!)”

Watch Protect the Eels here.

Could our caffeine habit cause aquatic stress?

June 16, 2017

Coffee beans. Image: Shunichi Kouroki | Flickr Creative Commons

A cup (or two) of coffee is a regular start to the day for many people. However, new research from the USA suggests that America’s caffeine habit may be contributing new stresses to the country’s aquatic ecosystems.

Our bodies don’t absorb all of the caffeine – the stimulant that can give us a pleasing ‘pep up’ – present in coffee, tea and many soft drinks, and as a result some caffeine is expelled in urine and faeces. Generally, sewage treatment plants remove a large proportion of caffeine from wastewater.

However, a long-term study in San Diego, USA, has found caffeine in remote streams far from urban areas and sewage plants, which may be contributing to ‘cocktails’ of multiple stresses impacting the stream ecosystems.

“When we started getting results, we realized it [caffeine] is way more prevalent than just from leaky sewer lines and septic systems,” said Carey Nagoda, a water resource control engineer for the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. “So that was kind of a puzzle.”

Nagoda analysed nearly 100 samples from aquatic ecosystems across San Diego County and part of Orange County between 2008 and 2015. Sampling sites ranged from urban waterbodies which received both raw sewage and treated wastewater, to remote waterbodies far from human development.

The study found that caffeine concentrations in remote streams were as high as in some urban waterbodies. Around one-third of remote waterbodies tested positive for caffeine, with concentrations of between 0.032 to 0.662 micrograms per litre – similar to those samples taken around septic systems – detected.

“We were completely shocked by that,” Nagoda said. “What really ended up falling out was that the areas known for high recreational use – like fishing, horseback riding, hiking, camping – were the ones that had caffeine hits.”


A stream in rural San Diego County. Image: James Arnott | Flickr Creative Commons

Freshwater scientists often use caffeine as a ‘marker’ for pollution in water samples. Its presence often indicates leaking sewage systems, or other point source pollution, and the resulting presence of other contaminants. The results of Nagoda’s study therefore suggests that raw and untreated human waste is entering waterbodies in remote areas, most likely as the result of poor waste management practices.

Caffeine is known to be an ecological stress on aquatic ecosystems, particularly at high concentrations. The caffeine concentrations detected in Nagoda’s study are relatively low, and so unlikely to cross a ‘toxic threshold’ to cause widespread harm to aquatic organisms.

However, new research from coastal areas suggests that continued exposure to low concentrations of caffeine can place stress on estuarine crustaceans. A study by Zoe Rodriguez del Rey and colleagues exposed a common species of near-shore mussel to low levels of caffeine similar to those found in San Diego mountain streams. The mussels initially expended energy producing a protein designed to protect their DNA.

However, as caffeine levels were gradually increased – within a range detected in coastal waters – the mussels stopped producing the protective protein. The study’s authors suggest that the mussels are placed at greater risk of genetic mutation, as a result. “They get so stressed out at a cellular level that they can’t protect their DNA with this protein,” said Elise Granek from Portland State University, a co-author on the study.

Together, the two studies suggest that caffeine may be present in remote waterbodies, as the result of waste from recreational users; and that low concentrations of caffeine may have previously undocumented stress effects on aquatic organisms. However, there is still significant research to be undertaken on the topic.

As Granek suggests, “There are so many things that are stressing out organisms and ecosystems, it’s not on a lot of people’s radar to be looking at these [caffeine] compounds. It seems like people focus on things that they think are sexier compounds, like Prozac.”

Caffeine, then, might be seen as an emerging toxic stressor in need of further scientific attention, as Thomas Bruton and colleagues suggest in a 2010 article, “Although caffeine presents no large-scale threat now, further research is needed on the occurrence of caffeine in natural waters and its chronic toxicity to aquatic organisms.”

SOLUTIONS: Simplified sampling of large water volumes for combined chemical and biological testing

June 9, 2017

LVSPE during the Joint Danube Survey 2013. Image: André Künzelmann (UFZ, Leipzig, Germany)

A guest post by Tobias Schulze, Martin Krauss, Jörg Ahlheim, David López Herráez, and Werner Brack of the EU SOLUTIONS project.


It is becoming more and more obvious: the analysis of individual chemicals is not sufficient to monitor water quality in rivers and lakes which increasingly contain mixtures of thousands of chemical compounds and transformations, both known and unknown.

The current water quality monitoring strategy based on the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) is not meaningful in identifying the real causes of chemical stress in aquatic ecosystems. It disregards the multitude of compounds and the impact of their mixtures, and thus cannot reflect the real world situation.

In this context, ‘mixture toxicity‘ is an important issue. Many compounds are not toxic at environmental concentrations, but a mixture of compounds with a similar mode of toxicity may cause severe impact on aquatic organisms and the surrounding ecosystem. At the ecosystem level this can impact species interactions, and cause local species loss, community shifts and direct or indirect alterations of core ecosystem functions.

The composition of these contaminant cocktails and their impact is inherently unknown in space and time. Therefore, using toxic effects in cells and organisms to detect hazardous contamination is increasingly accepted as a more holistic monitoring approach.

However, much larger water volumes need to be collected and extracted for bioanalysis than for chemical analysis only. Transporting samples of 50-1,000 litres of water to the lab for sample preparation is not an option. The efforts and expenses for cooling the sample and for the laboratory processing would be immense.


Preparation of the LVSPE before sampling. Image: Werner Brack (UFZ, Leipzig, Germany)

As a result, scientists and engineers from the SOLUTIONS project led by Tobias Schulze have developed a novel sampling device to perform the extraction of large volumes of water on-site from the shore of a waterway or at monitoring stations. The ‘LVSPE’ approach is flexible, robust and provides reproducible water extracts which contain as much as possible of the original cocktail of contaminants found in the water.

This device has been successfully deployed for biological effect-based and chemical analyses in the Danube and Rhine case studies carried out by SOLUTIONS. It has helped to unravel new insights into mutagenicity in surface waters and also to detect the potential impact of untreated wastewater on Danube water quality.

Both the Rhine and the Danube studies are excellent examples of the applicability of effect-based analyses in combination with chemical analyses as a means of investigating overall contamination and effect patterns.

The availability of large water volume extracts provided by the ‘LVSPE’ device is hence an important building block for the development of future effect-based and chemical monitoring approaches considering mixture toxicity. As a result, the device has significant potential in supporting holistic risk assessment and river basin management.


Detail view on the large sampling cartridge for up to 1000 liters. Image: André Künzelmann (UFZ, Leipzig, Germany)

If you would like to read more on the subject:

Schulze, T. et al. (2017): Assessment of a novel device for onsite integrative large-volume solid phase extraction of water samples to enable a comprehensive chemical and effect-based analysis. Science of the Total Environment, 350–358 (link)

Brack, W. et al. (2013): EDA-EMERGE: an FP7 initial training network to equip the next generation of young scientists with the skills to address the complexity of environmental contamination with emerging pollutants. Environmental Sciences Europe 25, 1-7 (link)

König, M. et al. (2017): Impact of untreated wastewater on a major European river evaluated with a combination of in vitro bioassays and chemical analysis. Environmental Pollution 220, 1220-1230 (link)

Muz, M. et al. (2017): Mutagenicity in surface waters: synergistic effects of carboline alkaloids and aromatic amines. Environmental Science & Technology 51, 1830–1839 (link)

Neale, P.A. et al. (2015): Linking in vitro effects and detected organic micropollutants in surface water using mixture toxicity modeling. Environmental Science & Technology 49, 14614-14624 (link)


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