Program announced to study Seneca, Skaneateles, Owasco lakes

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of an innovative pilot program on Skaneateles, Owasco, and Seneca lakes as part of New York’s $65 million, four-point initiative to aggressively combat harmful algal blooms in vulnerable lakes and waterbodies in Upstate New York. This long-term project pairs state and federal researchers with cutting-edge advances in data collection and monitoring to identify contributing factors causing HABs. Advanced monitoring is essential to understanding bloom formation and targeting effective mitigation strategies to combat the blooms.

“Protecting water quality is a top priority to ensure safe drinking water and the health of New Yorkers,” Governor Cuomo said. “This pilot program will allow us to continue to monitor the status of harmful algal blooms across our lakes, but more importantly, will help us to gather crucial information that will assist us as we work to eliminate these blooms altogether.”

As part of the 2018 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo directed the state’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team, co-chaired by Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker in partnership with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, to convene a series of regional summits. The summits brought together national, state and local experts to discuss the science of HABs and develop strategic Action Plans for 12 priority lakes across New York, including Skaneateles and Owasco Lakes, that have experienced or are vulnerable to HABs. The lessons learned from these Action Plans are currently being used to develop strategic plans for restoring water quality and preventing HABs in other lakes such as Seneca Lake, where HABs have also been reported. The teams focused on conditions that were potentially affecting the waters and contributing to HABs formation, and recommended immediate and long-range tailored actions to reduce blooms.

The project announced today is an outgrowth of the HABs initiative and a collaboration between the DEC and the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) NY Water Science Center.

Last week, project researchers deployed two “advanced-monitoring stations” at different locations in the northern reaches of Skaneateles Lake. These locations, one near-shore and one off-shore, provide water-quality information that will contribute to the understanding of HABs development, duration, and effects on water quality.

Additional monitoring stations are scheduled to be deployed in Owasco and Seneca lakes in mid-September.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “New York’s HABs initiative is the most comprehensive effort of its kind in the nation and the projects underway will bolster the state’s efforts to reduce these potentially dangerous blooms. With our state agency partners and USGS, the advanced monitoring stations to study and track HABs complement Governor Cuomo’s continued efforts to protect water quality across the state. New York State is committed to identifying the underlying causes of HABs and implementing new and innovative strategies to treat and prevent future occurrences to safeguard our clean water for future generations.”

Senator Tom O’Mara, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, “New York State must aggressively move forward on this environmental crisis, and we appreciate the seriousness it is being given by Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation. A stronger understanding of the scope of algal blooms and the risks they pose to local communities and local environments will make us better prepared to effectively eliminate this threat to our lakes and minimize future damage.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, said, “Harmful algal blooms have been an increasing problem across the State and it is important to initiate research programs such as this to fully understand the breadth of the issue and establish targeted, effective solutions. The water bodies affected by HABs serve not only as critical sources of drinking water, but as recreation and tourism destinations that help enhance the quality of life and support local economies. I look forward to seeing the results of this project.”

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney said, “Thanks to the leadership of Governor Cuomo, experts are continuing to investigate the cause of harmful algal blooms in Upstate New York. They are also finding new ways to combat these blooms and the threat they pose to our vital water sources. This pilot project is the next critical piece of the state’s comprehensive response to protect vulnerable lakes and prevent future algal blooms in our region.”

City of Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said, “Today’s announcement will provide much needed resources to monitor and address the threat of Harmful Algal Blooms to our waterways. Clean water is vital for health, safety, and quality of life in our communities, and I want to thank Governor Cuomo for recognizing the importance of monitoring and quality data in attacking this serious issue head on.”

Town of Skaneateles Supervisor Janet Aaron said, “Harmful algal blooms can have devastating effects on New York’s lakes and water sources. If left untouched, these blooms pose a severe risk to the safety of New Yorkers and the environment. I applaud Governor Cuomo for recognizing the need for further research and monitoring to combat these harmful blooms in the priority lakes of Skaneateles, Owasco and Seneca.”

Village of Skaneateles Mayor Martin Hubbard said, “The Governor’s efforts to combat harmful algal blooms have been unprecedented, and I applaud him for his ongoing leadership in addressing and treating this threat to our lake and our drinking water. With the data collected by these monitoring stations, we can make better informed decisions and ensure our residents and visitors are safe. This initiative is yet another step toward eliminating these blooms from our lake and I thank the Governor for his continued support on this front.”

Auburn Mayor Michael Quill said, “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York continues to combat this environmental crisis and lead the way on ensuring every community has clean water. The innovative pilot program will effectively address Harmful Algal Blooms and takes steps necessary to eliminate this severe threat to our community.”

Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner said, “Our lakes serve as an endless resource for our communities, and we depend on them for drinking, swimming, fishing and other recreational activities. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for providing the necessary funding for this innovative pilot program, which will ensure our communities have clean, safe water.”

Cortland County Legislature Chairman Charles Sudbrink said, “By launching this pilot program and deploying advanced-monitoring stations to help purge the harmful algal blooms from our lakes, Governor Cuomo has made it clear that the health and vitality of New York’s environment is paramount. I commend state and local leaders for collaborating on this important endeavor, and for fighting to protect our natural resources for the next generation of New Yorkers.”

Seneca Board of Supervisors Chair Robert Shipley said, “Harmful algal blooms have been devastating to the area, impacting drinking water, tourism, and recreation across the region. As we learn more about the ways in which these blooms develop, spread, and effect our water quality, it is critical that we record and measure this data to help us make the most informed decisions possible as to how we will eradicate HABs. I thank the Governor for his continued commitment to combatting harmful algal blooms and for investing the necessary resources to protect New Yorkers and visitors alike.”

Ontario County Board Chairman Jack Marren said, “This effort builds on the Governor’s commitment to leave a better New York for the next generation and I applaud Governor Cuomo and DEC for recognizing the need to protect our drinking water and aquatic habitats. By collaborating with federal, state and local experts to rid our precious waterbodies of harmful algal blooms, New York will be a healthier, better state for decades to come.”

Schuyler County Administrator Timothy O’Hearn said, “Seneca Lake is one of our greatest assets, and any threat to this waterbody poses a danger to both our residents and our economy. As we fight to protect this incredible natural resource, we are stymied by the fact that there is little known about harmful algal blooms and their long-term effects on both the environment and human health. I thank Governor Cuomo for his ongoing efforts to make educated decisions as we determine the safest and quickest way possible to rid the lake of HABs once and for all.”

The advanced-monitoring stations will measure in-lake water-quality conditions and use the information collected will help direct the implementation of future mitigation strategies to reduce human health risks from HABs. Each station is equipped with state-of-the-art technology that measures temperature, specific conductance, pH, dissolved oxygen, percent oxygen saturation, turbidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, phycocyanin fluorescence, and dissolved organic matter fluorescence. The near-shore station also is equipped with a webcam.

The sensors collect information on these parameters at 15-minute intervals, 24-hours a day. Data collected are being sent to the internet in real-time and incorporated into the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS). Once in NWIS, the data are immediately available to anyone with internet access. Data are free to download and use by visiting the “Water Quality Data Viewer”.

Skaneateles Lake is designated by New York State as a Class AA-Special water body, suitable for drinking water, recreation and fishing. Skaneateles Lake is the fifth largest of the Finger Lakes and serves as the primary drinking water source for more than 200,000 Central New Yorkers, including the city of Syracuse and other municipalities. In 2017, Skaneateles Lake experienced a prevalent shoreline and open water bloom from mid-September through early October. This bloom, more accurately called cyanobacteria, was the first confirmed incident for this relatively pristine lake.

Owasco Lake, a 6,640-acre lake that is one of the Finger Lakes in central New York, is one of the 12 priority lakes impacted by HABs. The lake is used for swimming, fishing, and boating. In addition, Owasco Lake is the primary drinking water source for the city of Auburn, town of Owasco, and many lakefront property owners. Owasco Lake was designated as an “impaired waterbody” due to its susceptibility to HABs.

Seneca Lake, located within Ontario, Yates, Seneca, and Schuyler counties, is in the geographic center of the Finger Lakes. At the northern tip of the lake is the city of Geneva, and at the southern tip is the village of Watkins Glen. Seneca Lake has the largest volume of water of the Finger Lakes and is designated by New York State as a Class AA-(TS) water body, suitable for drinking water, recreation, and fishing. Seneca Lake has experienced HABs of high toxicity during 2015, 2016, and 2017.

For more info on the Governor’s HABs initiative and the 12 Action Plans click here.

Also on FingerLakes1.com