Pilot programs on Skaneateles, Owasco, and Seneca Lakes will be getting a $65 million boost, in an initiative to combat harmful algal blooms in vulnerable lakes and waterbodies in Upstate New York. According to information released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office last week, the long-term project pairs state and federal researchers with cutting-edge advances in data collection and monitoring to identify contributing factors causing HABs. 

Seneca Lake is included in the project even though it has not been identified by state officials as one of the 12 priority lakes vulnerable to HABs to be studied in New York.

Last week, project researchers deployed two “advanced-monitoring stations” at different locations in the northern reaches of Skaneateles Lake. These locations, one near-shore and one off-shore, provide water-quality information that will contribute to the understanding of HABs development, duration, and effects on water quality.

Additional monitoring stations are scheduled to be deployed in Owasco and Seneca Lakes in mid-September.

The project is a cooperative effort between the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

Prof. John Halfman of the Finger Lakes Institute already maintains a water quality buoy on Seneca Lake in deep water offshore of Clark’s Point, near Roy’s Marina. The location of the new USGS buoy has not been determined yet, and Lisa Cleckner, Director of the Finger Lakes Institute based in Geneva says that decision will likely be made with input from Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association. 

Cleckner says the new Seneca Lake buoy will collect data similar to that being collected by the buoys already operating on Skaneatles Lake. To see details about that data, visit waterdata.usgs.gov and search for Skaneatles Lake. 

Advanced-monitoring stations measure in-lake water-quality conditions and use the information collected to help direct the implementation of future mitigation strategies to reduce human health risks from HABs. Each station is equipped with state-of-the-art technology that measures temperature, specific conductance, pH, dissolved oxygen, percent oxygen saturation, turbidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, phycocyanin fluorescence, and dissolved organic matter fluorescence. The near-shore station also is equipped with a webcam.

The sensors collect information on these parameters at 15-minute intervals, 24-hours a day. Data collected are being sent to the internet in real-time and incorporated into the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS). Once in NWIS, the data are immediately available to anyone with internet access. Data are free to download and use by visiting the “Water Quality Data Viewer.”

Skaneateles Lake is designated by New York State as a Class AA-Special water body, suitable for drinking water, recreation and fishing. In 2017, Skaneateles Lake experienced a prevalent shoreline and open water bloom from mid-September through early October. This bloom was the first confirmed incident for this relatively pristine lake.

Owasco Lake, a 6,640-acre lake, is one of the 12 priority lakes impacted by HABs. Owasco Lake is the primary drinking water source for the city of Auburn, town of Owasco, and lakefront property owners. Owasco Lake was designated as an “impaired waterbody” due to its susceptibility to HABs.

Seneca Lake, located in Ontario, Yates, Seneca, and Schuyler counties has experienced HABs of high toxicity during 2015, 2016, and 2017. 

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “New York’s HABs initiative is the most comprehensive effort of its kind in the nation and the projects underway will bolster the state’s efforts to reduce these potentially dangerous blooms. With our state agency partners and USGS, the advanced monitoring stations to study and track HABs complement Governor Cuomo’s continued efforts to protect water quality across the state. New York State is committed to identifying the underlying causes of HABs and implementing new and innovative strategies to treat and prevent future occurrences to safeguard our clean water for future generations.”