State reps update lake associations on harmful algal blooms
LAKE GEORGE — The state Department of Environmental Conservation is gearing up for harmful algal bloom season with a new notifications website to air later this month and continued monitoring of new ways to combat the blooms.
Harmful algal blooms are the layman’s term for cyanobacteria, a kind of photosynthesizing bacteria that sometimes produces liver and neurotoxins, dangerous to human and animal health. The blooms, at least in New York, tend to look like blueish-green paint scum, but when concentrated on shorelines can also look like thick algae mats.
Scientists still don’t know what causes some blooms to be toxic, and others to not be, but the state recommends people stay away from the blooms to be safe.
They typically crop up in late summer and early fall when the water is warm, and they feed on nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen. The bacteria also have little gas pockets that they can fill up or deflate, allowing them to float up and down in the water.
Hundreds of lake associations from across New York gathered for an update from DEC staff about the blooms, during the 36th annual conference of New York State Federation of Lake Associations, held at the Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center in Lake George. The conference included a myriad of other seminars and trainings, too.
Rebecca Gorney, with the DEC’s Division of Water, said 394 water bodies had blooms last year in 62 of 64 counties. Washington and Saratoga counties had multiple water bodies with blooms, including Moreau Lake, which closed to swimmers a few times last year.
Beach closures from blooms have skyrocketed since 2010 when there were two, to 104 in 2017.
“Are there more blooms now than ever? Yes, that’s the short answer,” Gorney said.
Every Friday during bloom season, the state updates a harmful algal blooms notification page on the DEC’s website. It categorizes the bloom as either “suspicious,” meaning no sample had been collected but it visually looked like cyanobacteria; “confirmed,” meaning a sample had been collected and analyzed; and “confirmed with high toxins,” meaning a sample had been collected and analyzed and toxin levels were high.
The state and a lab at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry do most of the sample testing, but Gorney said trained volunteers do a good job identifying toxic blooms by sight.
“Maybe we don’t need to measure toxins as frequently as we have been,” Gorney said. “However, there’s a public appetite for more sampling, more sampling, more sampling.”
She said that’s especially true for drinking water sources.
At the end of May, the DEC plans to roll out a reboot of its notifications page, Gorney added. It will include an online map identifying where the suspicious, confirmed or confirmed with high toxins bloom is located.
The page will include information from volunteers with the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program, which could include photos of the bloom. The public will also be able to report blooms from their mobile devices.
Lake Associations also received an update from Stephanie June, who manages the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program, on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $65 million harmful algal bloom initiative.
That funding was put in the 2018 budget and included the testing of new methods to get rid of harmful algal blooms. Twelve lakes are part of the overall program, including Lake George and Lake Champlain. Lake George is considered a control lake in the group of 12, as it has not had any major toxic algal bloom events.
June said on a few lakes, the state experimented with using hydrogen peroxide and ultrasonic devices. The hydrogen peroxide is thought to oxidize the toxins, and the ultrasonic devices are thought to affect the gas pockets in the cyanobacteria. They could keep the cells from floating to the top to get light and photosynthesize.
The experiment lakes were not named. June said there will be a few years of post-treatment monitoring to see how the treatments affected things like fish, plants, good algae and other things living in the lakes.