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Harmful algal bloom

A harmful algal bloom on Owasco Lake in Cayuga County is seen in the summer of 2017. The state is investing $500,000 to prevent algal blooms from becoming a problem in Lake George.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday the release of 12 action plans for water bodies across the state, including Lake George and Lake Champlain, to combat harmful algal blooms.

The plans are part of a $65 million initiative, which includes the implementation of specific projects in the 12 watersheds to protect water quality.

The state identified $500,000 for each of the action plans, which were developed by the state’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team, national experts and local stakeholders.

The remaining funds are set aside for specific water quality grants that lake groups, municipalities and others may apply for. Many of the deadlines for those grant opportunities are in July and August this year.

Harmful algal blooms are technically called cyanobacteria, though they often look like algae. Cyanobacteria can sometimes produce toxins that are bad to human health, as well as pets.

The most common toxin produced by these blooms in the United States is called microcystin, a kind of liver toxin. Exposure to this can cause nausea, skin rash, respiratory problems, headache and other health complications. Microcystin has also been known to kill dogs and livestock, attacking their livers after ingesting it.

The blooms have not only threatened recreation in lakes and ponds but also threatened drinking water supplies. The cells can float up and down water columns, sometimes making it into the deep waters where intake pipes are located. Treatment plants are not always equipped to deal with the toxins, and boiling water makes things worse because it splits the cells, releasing the toxins.

Owasco and Skaneateles lakes are two Finger Lakes whose drinking water supplies have been impacted by blooms last year.

“Protecting New York’s natural resources is a top priority of this administration and we have moved swiftly to ensure that the harmful algal blooms plaguing our water bodies are addressed quickly and effectively,” Cuomo said in a news release. “These action plans are an important step forward to protecting our environment and we will continue to do all that we can to eradicate these blooms once and for all.”

Lake George has not seen any cyanobacteria blooms, as far as most know.

“However, due to the size and popularity of the lake, as well as local infrastructure, watershed management actions should be taken,” the state said in Lake George’s action plan.

Warming waters, sun and nutrients are part of the ingredients for a cyanobacteria recipe. Many of the plans identify ways to reduce nutrient loading in order to keep blooms from occurring.

Lake George’s plan identifies nutrient loadings from wastewater treatment plant discharges, stormwater runoff, insufficient stormwater collection and on-site septic systems and sediment and nutrient runoff as primary factors impacting the lake’s water quality.

The plan identifies high-, medium- and low-priority groupings of projects that state and local officials believe should be implemented on Lake George.

Those groupings are further separated into short-, medium- and long-term projects, with short-term taking three years and long-term taking between five and 10 years.

Many of them involve improving wastewater systems and septic systems and reducing nutrient and sediment runoff. The plan also identifies priority research actions, including sampling tributaries and documenting nutrient inputs after storm events.

Lake Champlain is also a priority water body and has an action plan. Unlike Lake George, there have multiple beach closures due to cyanobacteria blooms at Port Henry and Isle La Motte. Generally, the projects recommended include better practices involving livestock and manure management on farms, improving roadside ditches and upgrades to wastewater and stormwater systems.

The public is encouraged to submit comments on the plans. The state calls them “living documents,” and does not identify a deadline to submit feedback. Comments and ideas may be submitted to DOWInformation@dec.ny.gov. To view all the plans and learn more about the initiative, visit dec.ny.gov/chemical/113733.html.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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