Sunday, September 6, 2020

When the water turns green

A handful of harmful algae blooms have struck the Adirondacks this summer, according to state environmental regulators.

Many blooms are inconvenient and ugly, but some are the product of toxic cyanobacteria that are often called and mistaken for algae. Without lab results, it’s impossible to know which is which, but officials tend to err on the side of caution now.

Inside the park’s boundaries, the state has identified five blooms it labels harmful, meaning not just icky but risky for people swimming in or drinking from the water. That figure, though, is sort of an undercount because it doesn’t include other blooms along Lake Champlain that are tracked by officials in Vermont.

separate bloom tracker for Lake Champlain shows a series of blooms along the edge of the Adirondacks and the lake, though the ones happening now have been labeled “generally safe.”

Some of the Adirondack blooms, like one photographed at Rollins Pond (pictured above) outside of Saranac Lake just a few days ago, have the tell-tale spilled paint look of a cyanobacteria outbreak. That bloom is large, the state’s records say, but localized, meaning not across the entire lake.

Another bloom in nearby Whey Pond has turned much of the pond a sort of green, according to pictures and state records.

These are local reminders of a national problem that is becoming increasingly expensive.

In ponds around here, the blooms are a nuisance if they come and go, but a real problem if they become frequent enough to turn away tourists. Major and persistent blooms are nightmare for water-dependent tourism areas, like Lake George, where nonprofits, bankers and local officials spent part of the summer working on various tactics to prevent algae blooms from hitting the lake in coming years.

It’s hard to quantify that sort of loss. But the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that tries to protect water from pollution, just put out a report rounding up other bloom related expenses.

EWG found governments across the country spent over $1 billion since 2010 dealing with algae blooms, including about $50 million in New York.

The group counted spending like upgrades to drinking water, stormwater and wastewater facilities, along with programs to cut farm runoff, which has contributed to many of the blooms in Lake Champlain. Plus, it found some efforts to try to clear up blooms once they happened.

“As our research shows, treating an algae outbreak once it has infested a lake or contaminated a water supply can be extraordinarily expensive,” one of the group’s economists, Anne Schechinger, wrote in the report.

I interviewed Schechinger for a story earlier this year on Lake Champlain.

The group knows its figures miss the true costs of the blooms.

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Ry’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Ry is a reporter who covered water-quality issues for the Explorer.

6 Responses

  1. David Bower says:

    Check this out for a natural, non-chemical method of controlling algae blooms:

  2. Charlie S says:

    “the blooms are a nuisance if they come and go, but a real problem if they become frequent enough to turn away tourists. Major and persistent blooms are nightmare for water-dependent tourism areas, like Lake George…”

    It’s not the ecosystem itself as much as it is the money that comes from tourism. The optimist in me is slipping away more and more as days lead into weeks, months into years. It just doesn’t feel good anymore no matter how hard I try! Future generations! I tried!

  3. Charlie S says:

    “Check this out for a natural, non-chemical method of controlling algae bloom…”

    Interesting David! The old agricultural publications from New York that used to be published in the early to mid 1800’s, ie…. “Genesee Farmer” “The Cultivator” & others…. incorporated accounts of methods to control pests from farmers who had firsthand experience. Some, if not, most, of these methods you don’t hear about anymore. This was way before the corporate poisons came into use. I have some of these publications in my collection which are fascinating reads. Generally the State follows the traditional course anymore, or seemingly so.

    It’s just like pharmaceuticals. Every time you see a doctor with an ailment they prescribe drugs without once hinting in the least that there may be an alternative cure. As per norm the doc prescribed two pills, Prednisone 20 mg & Diphenhydramine 25 mg. I don’t like, nor do I trust, drugs. I haven’t done a pharmaceutical in over 30 years. I had the scrips filled but never took any of these. Instead I went to a health food store and bought two homeopathic remedies, and five days later that rash is gone. Those remedies worked! Natural is the way to go in so many cases………………the moral of this rant!

    • Boreas says:


      As I was taught in school, the best doctors recognize the value of applying “tincture of time” to an ailment, and simply allowing the body to heal itself. Unfortunately, most impatient patients today want any ailment gone yesterday, and at least benefit from placebo. So, today, most patients expect, if not demand, medication.

  4. Charlie S says:

    “Most patients” Some of us are different Boreas and just because most people think this way or that does not make it right or mean it’s the best route. You already knew that. School! The world is a school and not only are we all students we’re all teachers too!

    • Boreas says:


      Another interesting point is the difference in philosophy and training between osteopathic and medical doctors. I find myself being drawn more toward providers who are DOs as opposed to MDs. But they are harder to find in some areas.

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