Sunday, November 20, 2022

The toxic side of HABs

HABs on mirror lake

The hazardous algal blooms (HABs) are back… and are they toxic.

State agencies (Environmental Conservation and Health) warn people to avoid all algae-like formations in lakes and ponds and caution that even cyanobacteria blooms without toxins can be harmful.

A handful of the dreaded HABs cropped up on lakes in late-October and early-November, a mark of warm, calm and sunny fall weather. Combined with a churn of nutrients within lakes, the sunny weather spurs rapid cyanobacteria growth, forming blooms on the water surface.

Blooms were documented on Mirror Lake, Lake George, Lake Colby and others in recent weeks. Lower Saranac Lake and Moose Pond both experienced their first documented blooms this year.

The harmful algal blooms can produce toxins but don’t always do. State agencies work with public water suppliers and public beaches to respond to nearby HABs, but many HABs detected around the state are not ever tested for producing toxins.

In the past decade, the state has recorded around 270 HABs containing toxins. But according to the state data, only two HABs with toxins have been identified in the Adirondack Park: a 2015 HAB on Lake Placid and a 2019 HAB on Mountain Lake in the southern Adirondacks.

I hope you had a chance to make it to the polls this week. Voters gave the greenlight to the $4.2 billion environmental bond, opening the door to huge sum of money to be used on climate change mitigation, flood control, wastewater and drinking water infrastructure improvements, land acquisition and more.

At the Explorer, we will be keeping up with how spending the bond act money goes over the coming, well probably 30 years. In a major overview of how the state 1996 bond act played out, Gwen Craig reported that some of that money still remains in the state’s coffers. The report also highlighted the lackluster paper trail of the last bond act. Let’s hope the state does better this time around.

We’ve also written a lot about some of the kinds of projects that could see funding: like clean water systemsstream connectivitygreen infrastructure and septic replacement.

Photo at top: A recent cyanobacteria bloom can be seen on the southern shore of Mirror Lake. Photo provided by Bill Billerman, the Mirror Lake Watershed Association.

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

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

4 Responses

  1. nathan says:

    i grew up swimming in many green ponds, most farm ponds get pretty green and floating on top in mats. Not once did i ever get sick from swimming in such ponds or lakes. i didn’t drink the water but are they over hyping the dangers of alga blooms n fresh waters as related to swimming??
    I know when the green mats start to die off that they can de-oxygenate and hurt the fish, but it seems like things get often blown out of proportion in modern times. Like NYS closing many springs all over the Adirondacks , many in use for generations even hundreds of years, to Dangerous bacteria. but growing up drinking from springs that my grandparents drank from as kids. not a person was ever know to die from them .

  2. Joan Grabe says:

    Please, Nathan, consider yourself a very lucky man. Millions of people get sick every year from toxic water sources and pollution. Haiti is still battling cholera periodically and cholera is a nasty germ which loves dirty water. Sanibel Island beaches are closed because of red tide – no swimming in the Gulf as you would have to wade through thousands of dead fish on the shore and in the water. No one is trying to scare us but they are trying to educate us, and our pets.

    • Paul says:

      I have a friend who lives in Sanibel. The beaches are not closed, and there are not thousands of dead fish you need to wade through?

  3. Charlie Stehlin says:

    I learned from Charles Darwin, when reading, I think ‘Voyage of the Beagle’ decades ago, that red tide has been around at least that long (1830’s). In that literature Darwin described a mat of red bloom over the water way back then which I had never heard anywhere else until I read that. Right away, after reading that, I realized that he was describing what we today call ‘red tide.’ I found that very interesting.

    “there are not thousands of dead fish you need to wade through?”

    > When I lived in Tampa, if memory (what’s left of it) serves me correct, I recall episodes of red tide in Tampa Bay which killed many fish. Of swimming holes! I lived in Winterhaven, Florida in the early 80’s. Back then the hot spot for swimming was Lake Martha which is a spring-fed lake I believe (like many of them are.) That lake went from the best swimming beach around to a beach with a ‘Danger’ sign depicting skull & bones, staked on the shoreline. Things change! Since then this same scene has cropped up, and will continue to crop up, unabated in many places USA as we do nothing to change the destructive nature innate in us! It is a sad affair indeed!

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