Schumer: In 2019 more than 1K toxic algal blooms plagued NY lakes

NYSDEC Has Tracked 1,138 algal blooms in 2019.

To Stop The Rampant Spread Of Dangerous Algae, Schumer Calls On U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers To Extend Successful Harmful Algal Bloom Fighting Pilot Programs To Upstate Lakes

Schumer To USACE: Upstate Lakes Have Been Swimming In Toxic Algae For Far Too Long

With reports confirming that harmful algae blooms continue to damage the health and vitality of lakes across Upstate New York, threatening Upstate communities, some drinking water sources, and outdoor recreation economies in the process, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched a major effort to curb their rampancy.

Schumer explained that while most algae are critical components of healthy freshwater ecosystems, that uncontrolled, harmful algal blooms (HABs)–specifically, of Cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae–can produce fatal toxins if ingested by people, aquatic life and even pets like cats and dogs. As of today, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NYSDEC) HAB tracker, there are 16 current HAB reports and 1,122 archived HABs from earlier this year, all of which could be doing serious damage to the natural ecosystems they exist in and the surrounding communities.

“The toxic algae blooms that are infecting lakes across Upstate New York not only threaten local communities, drinking water sources, ecosystems and public health, but also hurt our local outdoor economies by closing beaches and limiting recreational activities. Our Upstate lakes have suffered well over 1,000 of these harmful algae blooms just this year–they are being plagued, and require federal help to implement a cure,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why today I’m calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to take the algae-combatting pilot programs that have worked so well in states like Florida and bring them Upstate as soon as possible. To successfully battle these harmful algae blooms, Upstate New York is going to need the Army Corps’ expertise and support.”

In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has operated successful pilot programs designed to better combat and understand the spread of HABs in certain freshwater lakes across the United States, for example, Lake Okeechobee in Florida under the Aquatic Nuisance Research Program (ANSRP) and the Aquatic Plant Control Research Program (APCRP). However, none of these programs are currently in place anywhere in New York State. Therefore, to address these algal blooms which present a major threat to the health and well-being of humans, pets, lakes across the state and even the New York outdoor recreation economy, Schumer urged USACE to include similar pilot programs at Upstate lakes across the state in its Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan.

According to NYSDEC, there have been at least 160 HABs reported in the Hudson Valley this year; at least 60 reported in the Capital Region; at least 220 reported in Central New York; at least 260 in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region; at least 100 in Western New York; and at least 95 in the Southern Tier

Schumer said that USACE operates a number of successful HAB-combatting pilot programs under ANSRP and APCRP. Schumer explained that while ANSRP traditionally focused on the control of larger invasive species, like Asian Carp, that changed when the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019 was signed into law and the program’s budget was boosted from $675,000 to $3 million. Schumer highlighted how this budget increase came with language urging USACE to use the funding to develop better strategies for the detection, prevention, and management of HABs. Focusing on bolstering our understanding of HABs, USACE under ANSRP established five different pilot programs:

1. The Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment & Transformation System (HABITATS) program. By forcing the algae to the surface with oxygen bubbles, the HABITATS program allows researchers to skim the algae off the water, collect it, and even recycle the waste into energy;

2. The Operational Strategies for HAB Management in Inland Reservoirs program is developing guidance, as not all waterbodies can be treated the same, and reservoirs present unique challenges. This pilot program aims to effectively utilize reservoir operational activities to address HABs, such as flushing or holding water;

3. The Evaluation of a Peroxide-based Algaecide for HAB Control in Lake Okeechobee is another HAB-combatting strategy. According to the USACE, this will ultimately yield best management practices for using peroxide-based chemicals to eliminate HABs;

4. The Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics program studies the drivers and life cycle patterns of HAB events. They completed their first round of this program in Lake Okeechobee, Florida this year; and

5. The Harmful Algal Bloom Indicator Estimation in Small-inland Waterbodies: Remote Sensing-based Tools to Assist USACE Water Quality Monitoring program. Schumer explained that different from the previous program, this is focused on developing early detection methods that are based on water quality indicators. If successful, this could allow communities to respond to HABs in the very early stages, decreasing the danger they present to communities.

Furthermore, under APCRP, USACE operates two pilot programs dedicated to predicting HAB outbreaks and controlling them:

1. The Strategies for Early Detection of HABs and Predicting Toxic Release: Linking Hyperspectral Imaging to Molecular Techniques program is utilizing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) cameras and water quality indicators together to predict both the emergence of HABs and the toxicity of the outbreaks; and

2. The Small Regulatory Ribonucleic Acids (srRNAs) for HAB Control program is working to stop algae’s growth by inhibiting its ability to absorb nutrients, or photosynthesize, through an innovative gene silencing approach. If successful, this could stop outbreaks in their tracks, or from ever occurring.

Schumer argued that any one or more of these pilot programs could play a major role in helping to cure the plague of HABs across Upstate New York. And specifically, he urged USACE to extend them to the following lakes:

Skaneateles Lake: In 2019, NYSDEC reports that this waterbody may have experienced 24 HABs. For 123 years Skaneateles Lake has been an exceptionally clean drinking water source for currently 200,000 people in Onondaga County, New York. The highest of the Finger Lakes, Skaneateles Lake covers three counties at 16 miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, with a maximum depth of 315 feet. In addition to approximately 2,000 year-round residences along the lakeshore and a booming tourism industry, 45% of the watershed is used for agriculture. Often regarded as the cleanest Finger Lake and one of the cleanest lakes in the United States, things changed in 2017 when a HAB outbreak was discovered in the lake’s water intake pipe. During that outbreak, surface water tests showed levels of algae toxins nine times higher than what the State Department of Environmental Conservations considers high levels. This HAB lasted for weeks, even stretching into October. HABs returned in 2018, and again in 2019. In May 2019, the U.S. Geological Survey and New York State installed new technology that detects changing water conditions which could indicate the early stages of HAB formation. This technology is not only an early warning system but it also helps researchers gain a better understanding of HABs so they can develop treatment and preventive options. This or other technology could aid in preventing the spread of HABs in Skaneateles Lake.

Seneca Lake: In 2019, NYSDEC reports that this waterbody may have experienced 89 HABs. The largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca is a source of drinking water for nearly 100,000 people, as well as a driver of the regional economy. Seneca is surrounded by more than 50 wineries–as a result, the lake is a regular location for tourist activities, increasing the possibility of HAB exposure to humans and pets. This year marks the fifth year in a row that cyanobacteria have been confirmed in Seneca Lake, with at least 24 separate blooms reported in September 2019 alone. According to NYSDEC, on September 8, 2019 there were multiple reports of HABs with confirmed high levels of toxicity.

Chautauqua Lake: In 2019, NYSDEC reports that this waterbody may have experienced 85 HABs. Used by lake residents and visitors as a source of drinking water, and the most important economic asset for the surrounding area, Chautauqua Lake has experienced more than 298 reported HAB occurrences since 2012. Alarmingly, there were 82 confirmed HABs in 2017 with 14 confirmed as highly toxic. Since 2017, these HAB outbreaks have caused 22 beach closures and led to a total of 286 lost beach days. With 1,515 commercial farms, 15,500 acres of grapes, and eight wineries, recent studies have shown that pesticide run-off is a contributing factor to HABs. These HABs have a major impact on local communities as there are 14 municipalities that are within Chautauqua Lake’s watershed–all economically-dependent on the lake. This lake is listed as a National Historic Landmark, a huge draw for tourists, and it is consistently plagued by HABs. In the Water Resources Development Act of 2018, Schumer successfully fought to authorize a study of Harmful Algal Blooms at this lake. Now the time has come to allocate funding to begin study of this alarming environmental, health, and economic problem.

Canandaigua Lake: In 2019, NYSDEC reports that this waterbody may have experienced 66 HABs. As a drinking water source for approximately 70,000 people, Canandaigua Lake has 21,000 people living along the Lake’s shoreline. The fourth-largest of the Finger Lakes is 15.5 miles long, 1.1 miles wide, and 276 feet deep at its deepest point. In 2019, HAB occurrences led to the closure of public swimming areas and private beaches. As with Seneca Lake, these HABs continue to be a blight on the community.

Due to a number of factors, including nitrogen pollution as a result of older wastewater systems, the amount of phosphorus in waterways throughout New York has increased in recent years, causing large algal blooms to grow in the water. Experts say climate change has also brought warmer temperatures and more spring rainfall, both of which favor the growth of algae blooms. According to the EPA, red tides, blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, harmful algal blooms have severe impacts on human health, aquatic ecosystems and the economy.


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