State warns of harmful algae bloom in Barnum Pond

Barnum Pond, north of Paul Smiths, has a harmful algae bloom, and the state is warning people to avoid drinking, swimming and boating in its waters. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

PAUL SMITHS — The state Department of Environmental Conservation is warning people to avoid the waters of Barnum Pond due to a possible harmful algae bloom.

A harmful algae bloom (which DEC refers to as an HAB) can be caused by a number of factors, but the DEC said in an email that there are no homes or other structures within the pond’s watershed that would indicate it is caused by human inputs.

“HABs are likely triggered by a combination of water and environmental conditions that may include excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), lots of sunlight, low-water or low-flow conditions, calm water, and warm temperatures,” DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald wrote. “Depending on the weather and the characteristics of the lake, HABs may be short-lived (appearing and disappearing in hours) or long-lived (persisting for several weeks or more).”

Ringewald said that when such a bloom is reported to DEC, the department issues a warning in an effort to protect public health and raise awareness of the issue.

“People should avoid drinking the water and recreational activities such as boating and swimming,” she wrote. “DEC recommends that both people and pets avoid contact with blooms.”

Barnum Pond is the only waterbody with a current harmful algae bloom in Franklin and Essex counties, although there are numerous small, localized HABs on Lake Champlain. Statewide, there are 90 HABs listed on the DEC website. The DEC does not have authority to “close” a waterbody.

The bloom on Barnum Pond is currently classified as “suspicious” by the DEC, which means that laboratory analysis has not been done, but indications are that it is cyanobacteria.

“Cyanobacteria are irritants to some people even if toxins are not present so all contact with the bloom should be avoided,” the DEC’s HAB notifications page says. “Blooms may be present in all or part of the waterbody.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this year $65 million in state funding to tackle the causes of HABs. Ringewald said that while the state is working hard on addressing HABs, volunteers and citizens should report any suspicious blooms they see.

“DEC is aggressively addressing Harmful Algal Blooms across the state and works with local organizations and volunteers to monitor water bodies for HAB occurrences,” she said. “Any suspected HABs should be reported to DEC for additional investigation and monitoring and DEC will review any information organizations have regarding potential HABs.”

For more information on HABs, including a form to report suspected blooms and a full list of the current blooms, go to www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/83310.html.