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Harmful Algal Blooms Threaten NY Water Bodies


Harmful Algal Bloom on Cayuga Lake 2017

An environmental database company says toxic algae threatens public recreational and drinking water sources around New York.

Algae blooms have been particularly insistent this year, according to a statewide map and database released by Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting. Company president Walter Hang says he has been engaged in a 19-year battle to clean up harmful algal blooms in Southern Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes. "In August there was a huge cyanobacteria bloom, and this is what they used to call 'blue-green algae.' So run-of-the-mill algae is problematic because it can impair the water for bathing and for boating and for fishing and things like that. But these cyanobacteria release neurotoxins, which are incredibly threatening to public health."

  • Don’t swim, wade or fish near blooms or surface scum
  • Don’t drink the water
  • Keep children and animals away from any blooms or scums
  • Rinse with clean water if exposed
  • Consider medical attention if you have symptoms of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, skin, eye or throat irritation, allergic reaction or breathing difficulties
  • Report symptoms to the health department

Hang blames various toxins including farm waste and industrial runoff with triggering the neurotoxin-releasing blooms now proliferating. " Skaneateles Lake, Owasco Lake has another huge problem, and then essentially it's threatening the drinking water for the city of Rochester, Syracuse, it's just really unprecedented."

Also on Toxics Targeting's list: Round Lake, Nassau Lake, Saratoga Lake, Lawson Lake and the city of Albany's backup water source Basic Reservoir, which city water commissioner Joe Coffey says has a relatively high concentration of nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, a result of runoff from surrounding by farmland. "Our primary water supply is the Alcove Reservoir, and we're blessed that the Alcove is a very large, relatively pure water body. It's much deeper and much larger than the Basic Creek Reservoir, and I think the fact that we don't have as much agricultural land use in the watershed for the Alcove, that's one of the reasons we don't seem to have these HAB's in the Alcove. We can divert water from the Basic to the Alcove when we choose to do so, and we would generally never direct water from the Basic to the Alcove this time of year."

The algal problem is also apparent in New York City's Central Park Lake. Hang says 65 water bodies across New York now have harmful blooms. "The most important thing for people to recognize is that this kind of algae is very, very visually striking. The bright green or pea green color... No one should touch this material, they shouldn't let their pets walk around in the water or drink the water."

A state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman says the agency has been working tirelessly to correct the problems.

Hang adds just because water may look OK a few days after an algal bloom, the potent neurotoxins are likely still present. "We have in New York a total of 219 waters that are on a national registry of impaired water bodies called 303d. And more than half of those waters are on this registry because of excessive nutrients. And the problem is that the pace of cleanup is just glacial."

Click here to download this map as a PDF (9.9 MB)

Waterbodies with Harmful Algal Blooms Notifications

*Blooms in large lakes or rivers may be limited to specific shorelines or confined bays. Portions of any of these waterbodies may be clear and fully support recreational uses.

Click here to download this table as a PDF (2.12 MB)

NYSDEC Harmful Algal Blooms Program Archive Summary

Click here to download this document as a PDF (167 KB)