Think underwater drones, satellite imagery, macrophyte surveys, and thermistor arrays studying movement and mixing of the thermocline.

While such things seem set aside for scientists, volunteers are participating more and more with professionals when it comes to protecting and preserving the Finger Lakes. As pollutants, harmful algae blooms and invasive species continue to worm their way into the lakes, a growing number of researchers, educators, environmentalists and others are fighting back. Many of these experts talked to crowds this past week at events in the Finger Lakes region, highlighting new technologies and methods to get to the bottom of what’s going on — all the while, emphasizing the role volunteers play in the health of the lakes.

“The list of invasive species grows,” said Nancy Mueller, manager of the New York State Federation of Lake Associations, at a symposium Thursday at Ventosa Vineyards. The estate winery overlooking Seneca Lake hosted the 2019 Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance event.

“But we know what’s coming,” Mueller said. “We know what’s out there, thanks to volunteers.”

At the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association annual meeting Aug. 14 at Finger Lakes Community College, volunteers were also highlighted. Among the projects that depend on citizens: a shoreline monitoring program that involves collecting water samples to be tested for blue-green algae, a survey program of aquatic plants and various other activities. A photo contest, increased social media presence and awards for extraordinary accomplishments on behalf of watershed health are some of what the Watershed Association is doing to encourage participation. The Watershed Association, which advocates for the watershed that serves as a source of drinking water for some 70,000 people, works closely with other like-minded groups across the region, including the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance.

At the Keuka Lake Water Quality symposium Aug. 12 at Keuka College, Tim Sellers, Ph.D. reported on the state of the lake reviewing the current state and possible threats. Maria Hudson explained the Keuka Lake Association’s volunteer lake and stream sampling programs and the new shoreline surveillance program. Tony Prestigiacomo, research scientist with the NYS DEC Finger Lakes Watershed Hub discussed the ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms.

At Ventosa Vineyards, Mueller and other speakers talked about how increased funding and partnerships between watershed groups and government agencies are making a difference. Harmful blue-green algae blooms, invasive species, climate change and citizen involvement were among the topics covered.

Moderated by Lisa Cleckner, director of the Finger Lakes Institute, those addressing a large audience included Hilary Mosher with Finger Lakes Institute and Aimee Clinkhammer and Prestigiacomo. Wednesday’s Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association event also included presentations by Prestigiacomo and Kevin Olvany, Canandaigua Lake Watershed program manager.

Samantha Dreverman, marketing coordinator with Finger Lakes Premier Properties, who attended the symposium at Ventosa Vineyards, said she is glad that so many people are behind lake protection. The health of the lakes is crucial to tourism and to keep people coming back, she said.

Erica Paolicelli, partner at Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, talked about how the Finger Lakes has become a “worldwide recognized brand.” While much is heard about people leaving New York, the Finger Lakes region is drawing people from around the world, she said. Paolicelli and Cleckner both talked about how economics and the natural environment are intertwined.

“We are creative people,” said Cleckner. “We need jobs and we also need to protect our lakes. Everyone has a right to clean drinking water.”

With every one of the 11 Finger Lakes represented at the symposium, various watershed groups sported display tables with educational materials and had members who talked to attendees. Eric Randall, a professor emeritus at SUNY College at Buffalo and member of the Conesus Lake Watershed Association, even had an underwater drone to show off. The device is used to capture underwater images to monitor invasive species and other activity taking place down under.

In his presentation at the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association event, Prestigiacomo talked about the latest in lake sampling — which now also takes place during the winter — and how technology such as satellite imagery is being used to detect and capture areas of blue-green algae.

Olvany said this is a crucial time in the summer season because blue-green algae blooms are most likely to show up.

“We are keeping our eye on things,” Olvany said.

Learn more about the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance at Learn more about the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association at and the Keuka Lake Association at


The Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association handed out awards and recognition during its annual meeting. George Barden was recognized for 40 years in the field of watershed protection, including 29 years as the Canandaigua Lake watershed inspector. The village of Naples was recognized for the groundbreaking of a public sewer system, which will use green technology and be the first of its kind in New York state.