This topic holds a special place in my journalist heart. When I worked in Auburn, Owasco Lake, which is the drinking water source for a large part of Cayuga County, had harmful algal blooms (more accurately called cyanobacteria) near the City of Auburn’s drinking water intake pipe. Nearly every day in the summer and fall I was writing a story about whether the water was safe to drink and safe to swim in, not just for people, but for pets, too. I wrote about dogs that had died from ingesting the scum. Some cyanobacteria blooms have liver and neurotoxins that are fast-acting and kill pets, waterfowl and other animals.
I also covered the 2017 bloom on Skaneateles Lake, one of the cleanest lakes in the country and the drinking water source for the City of Syracuse. Back then, the state organized a number of stakeholder meetings to discuss how to combat these blooms. There was a brainstorming portion for stakeholders and a public information session following. I was able to attend the brainstorming portion in Syracuse, where Lake George environmental groups and officials were brought in to talk about how clean Lake George was. The lake was showcased as a model for water-quality management and was part of a list of 12 water bodies across the state for a more than $60 million harmful algal bloom program–but it was included as the control lake.
It’s sad to know, now, that even this clean water body is susceptible to blooms.
There is lots of talk about septic system regulations around the lake. What was surprising to me when I moved out here was the lack of regulation. Cayuga County, for example, has a mandatory septic system inspection program, and it’s not just upon property transfer. Your system gets checked on a regular basis, though how often it gets checked depends on how close you are to a water body. So, if you live right on the shoreline of Owasco Lake, your septic is checked every year. If you live farther out, it might be checked every two years, three years, etc.
In addition to septic systems, Lake George has a lot of sediment building up in the lake. In fact, it’s on a list of impaired water bodies, which also means it’s up for a nutrient diet plan called a total maximum daily load.
There’s so much to this story, and we’ll have to see what happens next.
While blooms are rare this time of year, it’s good to know what they look like. This link will take you to some photos. Keep an eye on your dogs, especially. Rinse them off if they’ve jumped in some strange-looking water. They lick their fur, and that can be enough to cause serious harm or death.
Kristen Wilde, director of education for the Lake George Association, samples the algal bloom. Photo courtesy of Lake George Association