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Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Educational Signage to go up in Yates County

Staff reports
The Chronicle Express

In response to the occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Finger Lakes region, Yates County Public Health, in partnership with Keuka Lake Association (KLA), Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association (SLPWA), Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association (CLWA), and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Yates County have developed educational signage for public beaches, launches and other public and private lake access sites. In the coming weeks, signs will be installed near the shoreline at several locations within Yates County, on all three of the Finger Lakes (Keuka, Seneca, and Canandaigua), within the county. Additionally, Steuben County Public Health has joined the effort so that signage can be placed around all of Keuka Lake. 

Harmful algal blooms (HAB) informational signage.

Signs have been designed to educate individuals visiting lake access sites about how to identify a harmful algal bloom (HAB), to avoid it if one is present at the location upon arrival, and resources for additional educational and reporting information. These signs are educational only—they do not serve to verify the presence (or absence) of a bloom. If there is a known bloom at a public beach, New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) manages closure of public beaches. However, HABs can occur quickly when conditions are right, and just because there is not an issued beach closure, does not confirm that there isn’t the possibility of a HAB being present when arriving at a location. This is why having educational signage is important; so that prior to accessing the lake, visitors can identify, avoid, and report suspicious HABs.

Laura Bailey

Public Health Nurse, Chelsea Bailey, RN, BSN at Yates County Public Health, advises that HAB exposure can occur from touching, swallowing or inhaling contaminated water. This can happen through activities such as; swimming, boating, drinking, fishing etc. Stop using water if you identify a HAB or suspicious water scum. Exposures to HABs can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting; skin, eye or throat irritation; and allergic reactions or difficulty breathing. If you experience severe symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Rinse off yourself, children and animals with clean water if you suspect you were exposed to a bloom or surface water scum. Pets can also be susceptible to illness from HAB exposure and should be washed and monitored for symptoms if they drink or swim in areas with suspected HABs. Consumption of fish in areas of HABs can also cause illness. Do not fish or eat fish caught from areas with blooms or surface scum. To report pet or human health related symptoms believed to be caused by contact with a HAB, contact Yates County Public Health at (315) 536-5160.

Most algae are harmless and are actually an important part of the food web, but when ideal conditions are present (i.e., sunlight, calm water, warm temperatures, etc.) certain types of algae can grow quickly, forming blooms. Some species of algae can produce toxins during a bloom that can be harmful to people and animals, these are HABs. They are triggered by a combination of both water and environmental conditions that may include excess nutrients (i.e., phosphorus and nitrogen), sunlight, warm temperatures, calm water, and low-water or low-flow conditions. These factors that likely contribute to the increased occurrence of HABs, as well as other factors, such as the presence of and selective feeding processes of zebra and quagga mussels, are being researched by NYSDEC experts to better understand how they each contribute to and impact waterbodies and the occurrence of HABs. 

Although several factors that likely contribute to the occurrence of HABs have been identified and are being researched by national experts and on a regional scale as well, each waterbody is unique and has a wide range of conditions and vulnerabilities, so collecting data specific to each of the Finger Lakes can help us to better understand HABs on a local, lake specific level. In 2019, KLA launched the Shoreline Monitoring Program (SMP) to monitor for the occurrence of HABs on Keuka Lake. The program is a collaborative effort between KLA, CCE of Yates, SLPWA, Finger Lakes Institute (FLI), and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). Data collected provides more insight and understanding about the locations, timing, weather conditions, and blue-green algae chlorophyll levels of suspicious harmful algal blooms (HABs) on Keuka Lake. Also, very importantly, the program fosters increased community awareness and knowledge of HABs. In Yates County, SLPWA and CLWA also have HAB monitoring programs at their respective lakes.

The KLA SMP program is supported by volunteers from the community, a majority of whom have lakefront property on Keuka Lake. Volunteers are trained by NYSDEC to properly identify and safely collect samples of suspicious HABs. Volunteers submit weekly observational surveys of their shoreline zone, reporting the presence or absence of a HAB. Reported blooms are uploaded to NYSDEC’s interactive map that is accessible to the public (https://nysdec.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=ae91142c812a4ab997ba739ed9723e6e), where blooms reported both through the KLA SMP program and by the public are shown. 

If you arrive at a lake or waterbody and suspect a HAB is present, avoid it! Report it to NYSDEC using the online report form https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/66337b887ccd465ab7645c0a9c1bc5c0, or email HABsInfo@dec.ny.gov, or call 518-402-8179.

For additional information or if you are interested in joining the KLA SMP as a volunteer and monitoring a shoreline location on Keuka Lake for HABs, please contact Laura Bailey at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County at (315) 536-5123 or lb698@cornell.edu