Unlike hundreds of water bodies across the state, Lake George has not had, as far as most know, a harmful algal bloom.
The state is hoping to keep it that way, investing $500,000 in an action plan to keep blooms away, which is expected to be complete by the end of this month. Lake Champlain hasn’t been so fortunate, with instances of the toxic blooms in 2016 and a suspicious bloom last year. It, too, is getting an action plan, along with 10 other lakes across the state.
The plans are part of a total $65 million investment Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last year, as these blooms have sprung up in more water bodies, threatening public health through recreation and tainted drinking water.
Harmful algal blooms aren’t your typical green surface scum. While unsightly when at the surface, a bloom can also be dangerous, so much so that the state has a blanket policy to stay out of the water should there be evidence of one.
The blooms are a bluish-green filmy substance — some people call it blue-green algae — that can look wispy out in open water or congregate in thick goop on shorelines. They often crop up in late summer and early fall, when waters are warm and calm. They also need nutrients to bloom, so often they’ll be observed after heavy storms. The cells have gas vacuoles that let them float up and down in the water, making them visible on the surface one day, and out of sight the next.
Not all blooms are dangerous, but some have had detectable levels of different toxins. The most common in New York are called microcystin, a kind of liver toxin, and anatoxin, a kind of neurotoxin. People who swim in a bloom may experience different side effects including nausea, vomiting, headaches, respiratory problems, skin rash and other reactions. There have also been reports nationwide of dogs and livestock dying shortly after swimming or wading in a bloom. Dogs are particularly susceptible because they lick their fur, which could give them a concentrated dose of the toxins.
Though scientists say Lake George has not experienced one of these blooms, they worry it could. That’s because, last year, Onondaga County’s Skaneateles Lake, often considered a sister lake to Lake George due to their clean and clear waters, had multiple toxic blooms during the summer months. The toxins threatened the drinking water of not only local town and village residents, but also those in the city of Syracuse and surrounding areas.
In March, local and national experts gathered in Ticonderoga, one of four harmful algal bloom summits. This one specifically discussed Lake George and Lake Champlain.
Scott Kishbaugh, chief of the DEC’s Lakes Monitoring and Assessment Section, said at the summit that the state will be looking at what the differences are between Skaneateles Lake and Lake George. In a statement to The Post-Star, the DEC added that the emphasis on Lake George’s action plan will be on the effective prevention of harmful algal blooms.
Lake Champlain’s harmful algal blooms have been worse on the Vermont side than the New York side, Kishbaugh added. Still, there have been several beach closures across both states last year due to blooms.
Harmful algae is not a stranger to the region. In Warren County, four water bodies have experienced blooms, including Friends Lake in 2015, Glen Lake in 2017, Lake Sunnyside in 2012 and 2013 and Loon Lake in 2012 and 2015. Washington County’s Cossayuna Lake had high levels of toxins in its 2013 bloom and then had confirmed blooms again in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Hadlock Pond had a confirmed bloom in 2017, and Summit Lake had one in 2017. Ballston Lake in Saratoga County has also experienced the blue-green scum in 2012 through 2014 and again in 2017. Also in Saratoga County, Round Lake in 2016 and 2017 and Saratoga Lake in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 experienced blooms.
The lakes chosen in Cuomo’s $65 million initiative are drinking water and recreation sources. They will each get a $500,000 action plan, which the DEC said will be complete by the end of May. The remaining funding will be available through different state water quality grants, for which local municipalities and lake groups can apply. The funding is intended for specific projects that can minimize nutrient loading into lakes and other projects that can prevent harmful algae from proliferating.
The DEC has a harmful algal bloom notifications page it updates weekly during the season. No Warren, Washington or Saratoga county lakes were on the latest list. For more information and to learn how to contact DEC if you suspect a bloom, visit dec.ny.gov/chemical/83310.html.