Can Biochar Solve Arthurdale’s Algae Problem?

Photo by Dylan Jones

Algae is all over the news these days. Sometimes the news is good (biofuel!) but usually it’s harmful to humans. Most recently, it’s been making headlines in the Preston County town of Arthurdale where an algae bloom in the town’s current water source—the Arthurdale pond—is causing discoloration and a bad taste. In a The Preston County News & Journal article, Public Service District No. 1 board member Mike Adams said that the water is safe, but residents remain concerned.

Biochar: Algae Annihilator

The main causes of algal blooms are mostly known and are being studied. One factor we can mitigate immediately is our use (and overuse) of certain fertilizers. Runoff from chemical fertilizers appears to be a major causal factor in the growth of damaging algal blooms, which are costing Americans’ livelihoodhealth, and even coveted vacation time (of which we don’t have enough). So how do we make the necessary changes? I believe part of the answer lies with education and implementation.

One very promising avenue is biochar, which is an agricultural panacea of sorts with regards to its multitude of uses. Biochar is charred biomass made from pyrolysis—a process of decomposition accelerated by high temperature. It can be made from wood, crop waste, poultry manure, and many other organic byproducts, of which our farms have plenty. The implications for a heavily agricultural region like the 53rd District are huge. Biochar can (and should) be used on farms, lawns, gardens, and landscaping to help improve soil health, increase crop yields, and lessen the reliance on chemical fertilizers—the stuff undoubtedly contributing to the Arthurdale algae bloom. Biochar is a relatively simple way to simultaneously address multiple issues: lowering the available food for algae by absorbing nutrients in chemical fertilizers, storing carbon in the ground, improving soil health through nutrient absorption, increasing crop yields, and creating long-term productivity for our farms.

A Multifaceted Solution

These strategies will not happen overnight, but they are happening. Eastern WV Community and Technical College in Moorefield started a biochar conference last year (that I attended). The event was also well-attended by state officials, biochar researchers, regional farmers, college professors, and entrepreneurs. Biochar is a potentially huge market that is just getting off the ground in the U.S., and one that could be beneficial in both environmental and economic ways in Preston County. The algal issue facing Arthurdale is not unique, unfortunately, but its causes must be addressed for the long-term health of people, including the water and soil upon which they depend. Problems often present opportunities for system improvement, innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

A vote for me is a vote for clean water, better farms, and advanced industry. When I’m elected in November, I’ll work closely with our local communities to find unique solutions to our unique problems. If you share a similar concern about keeping our water supplies free of algal blooms, or support the cultivation and incubation of cutting-edge industries, I invite you to join me. When we work—and vote—together, we can ensure a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous future for all West Virginians.