Lakeshore residents and lake enthusiasts are becoming frustrated by the return of blue-green algal blooms - some that have been confirmed as harmful - to Keuka, Seneca and Canandiagua Lakes this summer.
Experts say the greenish, slimey substance is likely to persist through the end of summer, and return in the future while efforts to identify and reduce the conditions that lead to them continue.
The beaches at Indian Pines and Red Jacket parks in Penn Yan were closed again Monday evening, Aug. 27, for suspected blue-green algal blooms. This is the third time this month that the beaches have been closed.
Last week, a bloom was discovered near Perry Point on Seneca Lake, just south of Dresden, and a blue-green algae bloom reported Aug. 24 on Canandaigua Lake closed Onanda Park Beach in Canandaigua for the entire weekend due to concerns relating to blue green algae. The swim beach at Deep Run on the lake’s east side in Gorham is also closed due to algae.
Beginning the plan
There are efforts underway to find solutions, and lake organizations, municipalities, and even corporations are working together to solve the problems that could impact local tax bases, tourism, and the overall economy.
Members of the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (SWIO) learned in July that $200,000 to fund a manager for the Seneca Lake Watershed has been secured in the state budget through the efforts of State Sen. Pam Helming. The SWIO has also secured $75,000 toward the local match toward a $360,000 grant to develop a Nine-Element (9E) plan for the Seneca Lake Watershed. Steuben, Schuyler, Ontario, and Yates Counties and SWIO have each pledged $5,000, and Corning Inc. has promised $50,000.
While those efforts are underway, more members of the public are getting involved by becoming better informed about the issues, volunteering to monitor shorelines, and collecting water samples for testing.
Roughly 300 people turned out last week to attend two meetings where they learned more about the conditions that result in the sometimes toxic blooms and about the kind of plan that could help secure resources to reduce the chance of the always present algae flourishing in the Finger Lakes.
Aug. 20 about 150 people attended a Keuka Lake Water Quality Summit at Keuka College, where they heard presentations from researchers, advisors, and a representative from the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Aug. 23 another group of about 150 people gathered in Watkins Glen for the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association annual dinner, where Liz Moran of EcoLogic outlined the process for developing a 9-Element Plan.
Those who attended the Keuka Lake meeting, learned the basics about the probable causes of harmful algal blooms (HABs): increased nutrient levels from land use changes, intense weather events, and various sources.
Those who attended the Seneca Lake meeting learned about the process that has already begun to establish a 9E plan for the Seneca watershed, which includes Keuka Lake.
Moran said while finalizing a 9E plan can take up to two years, there are things that can be done during the plan’s development.
A 9E plan determines the sources of pollutants entering the lake, particularly through streams and ditches; sets goals for water quality; and describes best practices to improve and maintain water quality. A 9E plan is necessary for a watershed to be eligible for future state and federal funding. With 62 blooms reported in various lakes around New York State in August alone, there is plenty of competition for securing the funds for research and planning.
Moran said with the Seneca Lake Watershed Management Plan that was prepared through a partnership of the Finger Lakes Institute, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, and Southern Tier Central Regional Planning & Development Board, the Seneca Watershed has a good start toward establishing a plan.
The collaboration that is already underway in the Seneca Watershed should work in favor of efforts, says Moran. She says the aim of a 9E plan is to pinpoint which steps will have the biggest impact on the lakes’ health.
“The phosphorus levels for Keuka and Seneca Lakes are already reasonably low, but we are already getting HABs,” she said, adding, “A lot of information has been gathered and we have a lot of good people working on this.”
“We’re all in this together, and we all need to give a little,” said Seneca Lake Pure Waters Board member John Socha of Plum Point during Moran’s talk in Watkins Glen.