Monday, May 29, 2023

New Yorkers encouraged to report harmful algal blooms through online notification system

A cyanobacteria bloom can be seen on the southern shore of Mirror Lake.

On May 26, the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) reminded New Yorkers to learn about and be aware of harmful algal blooms, or “HABs,” as the 2023 HABs notification season starts. DEC’s New York Harmful Algal Bloom System (NYHABS) is now active and allows the public and trained citizens to send reports of HABs to DEC electronically via a simple, user- and mobile phone-friendly form.

“As summer begins, we encourage New Yorkers to be on the lookout for HABs, which can impact New York’s lakes and waterways and pose a potential public health risk,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Working closely with DOH and local partners in communities statewide, DEC continues to make significant investments to prevent excess nutrients and other contaminants from contributing to these potentially toxic blooms and is actively working to help New Yorkers understand how to identify and report HABs, as well as keep themselves, their families, and pets out of harm’s way.”

“Harmful algal blooms contain toxins that pose health risks to people and animals, so we want to encourage New Yorkers to be on the lookout this summer as they spend time in the water,” said Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald. “The New York Harmful Algal Bloom System (NYHABS) is an easy tool that allows the public to both protect themselves by becoming aware of trouble areas as well as to report blooms in an effort to help protect others.”

Once evaluated by DEC and DOH, reports are posted to the NYHABS page. The system features an interactive map of current and archived bloom locations to help keep New Yorkers informed. With resources such as the online HABs map and reporting system, New York continues to be a national leader in supporting initiatives to address HABs across the state and to ensure effective communication to the public. DEC works with DOH, the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), and other State and local partners in leading the most comprehensive HABs monitoring and reporting program in the nation. In cooperation with its partners, DEC monitors hundreds of waterbodies annually and works with DOH and OPRHP to ensure public health protections against HABs.

A harmful algal bloom is seen on the southern end of Lake George.

A harmful algal bloom is seen on the southern end of Lake George. Photo courtesy of NYSDEC’s harmful algal bloom notifications page.

HABs have been monitored closely across New York State for more than a decade. DEC’s Division of Water recently published an analysis of trends in the occurrence of HABs, “Detections of cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) in New York State, United States (2012-2020).” This work evaluated patterns in frequency, intensity, and duration of HABs compiled in large part through public reporting. This important piece of peer-reviewed literature suggests that increased public awareness of HABs, and their reporting through NYHABS, has led to an increase in confirmed HABs since 2012. However, few lakes had confirmed HABs every year of the study. The study also determined the intensity and duration of HABs did not increase. To best understand HAB conditions statewide and over time, the study highlights the importance of focusing monitoring efforts on a broad range of waterbody sizes and conditions coupled with consistent public reporting, elements DEC has incorporated into its monitoring programs and through NYHABS. HABs present several management challenges and this study and other research help advance the understanding of HABs to inform sound, scientifically driven, decision-making to protect public health and the environment.

HABs are likely triggered by a combination of factors that include excess nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, lots of sunlight, low-water or low-flow conditions, calm water, and warm temperatures. HAB occurrence and reporting typically increases each year throughout the warmest months with the most reports received during August and September.

New York State has many programs and activities to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen from entering the water from surrounding lands, including stormwater permitting programs, a nutrient law that restricts the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizer, and funding for water quality improvement projects that, among other issues, improve water quality impacted by nutrients and HABs.

To date, New York has awarded more than $371 million in grants designed to reduce the frequency of algal blooms across the state by targeting phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, controllable factors that can contribute to the occurrence of HABs, and more than $14 million to research and development, pilot projects, and advanced monitoring. As part of New York State’s recently announced Consolidated Funding Application (CFA), DEC’s Division of Water has two grant programs currently available that may support projects to help reduce the occurrence of HABs. These include at least $75 million in funding through the Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) program and up to $3 million in funding through the Non-Agricultural Nonpoint Source Planning and MS4 Mapping Grant (NPG). DEC also continues to evaluate HAB mitigation technology and strategies.

When it comes to HABs, DEC encourages New Yorkers to “KNOW IT, AVOID IT, REPORT IT.”

KNOW IT – HABs vary in appearance from scattered green dots in the water, to long, linear green streaks, pea soup or spilled green paint, to blue-green or white coloration. AVOID IT – People, pets, and livestock should avoid contact with water that is discolored or has algal scums on the surface.

REPORT IT – If members of the public suspect a HAB, report it through the NYHABs online reporting form available on DEC’s website. Symptoms or health concerns related to HABs should be reported to DOH at harmfulalgae@health.ny.gov.

For more information about HABs, including bloom notifications, which are updated daily through fall, visit DEC’s Harmful Algal Blooms web page. The HABs Program Guide, which includes information and links to resources regarding bloom prevention, management, and control, can also be downloaded from the DEC website. Visit DOH’s website for DOH’s public health information.

 

Check out these Adirondack Explorer stories about HABs at the links below:

Warm, sunny fall weather produces HABs on Adirondack lakes 

Harmful algal bloom crops up on Lake George

 

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

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.




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