Monday, December 7, 2020

On late-season toxic algal blooms

Recently, I wrote a follow-up to my colleague Ry Rivard’s coverage of harmful algal blooms. Lake George has had a few late blooms this fall.

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

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Gwen is the environmental policy reporter for Adirondack Explorer.




4 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Great post, Gwendolyn !

    I wish all waterbodies in the Adirondacks were in municipalities which required annual septic inspections. Two of my friends who own on Osgood Pond have just updated their systems after years of not inspection, which is to say years of pollution. And those folks are otherwise very responsible citizens.

  2. Everett McNeill says:

    Hi Gwen, We had a late bloom also this year in Sept, first one we are aware of, very small only lasted a couple of days in Sept.

  3. M.P. Heller says:

    There is simply no appetite here in Lake George amongst public officials in any of the 5 major towns to mandate inspections, much less to require repairs. Its grimy politics at its finest. Don’t disturb the property tax base and the income it provides regardless of the consequences to the lake itself.

    The same philosophy has been repeatedly applied to almost every revenue producing activity that is currently permitted on the lake from overcrowding of boats that require a paid annual use permit to rampant overdevelopment of the shoreline and collection of annual wharf fees. The conflict of interest are staggering when you consider that the agency tasked with collecting these fees (LGPC) is the same one that decides what they are and what the limits should be. This is the very same agency that budgets for its own law enforcement boats and employees and consistently reports only citing 3 or 5 boating while intoxicated violations every year. Its the same exact do nothing approach used in regulating the septic contamination that has been going on for decades. Collect enormous amounts of fees to fund a gigantic budget for an extremely poorly managed agency. None of the town governments seem to want to call any of this into question.

    Its interesting to note that both the Town of Lake George and the Town of Queensbury have had plans to install proper sewage systems in the most heavily developed areas for decades. The Town of Lake George plan has been around since the 1970s. Dormant, unfunded, and the subject of massive resistance from business owners and seasonal home owners. A properly managed and implemented sewage system would eliminate the issue of septic inspections entirely. Rather than mandatory septic inspections, a requirement to connect to a sewage system should be the priority, and if a special tax is required for a number of years to implement it, so be it. If you can afford the exorbitant property prices and the taxes that go with them, you can afford to pay into a fund to develop proper sewage facilities. There is no excuse.

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