Site photography courtesy of Matt Champlin

From the SLA: Addressing harmful algae blooms

SLA News Update on HABs by Paul Torrisi

Following the detection and reporting of the recent Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) on Skaneateles Lake in September, the SLA continued to take the lead in organizing a plan of action to “control the controllables”. We all quickly learned that the “toxic bloom” we experienced was not an “algae” bloom but a response from a tiny bacteria that has existed in every body of freshwater on the planet for billions of years, i.e., cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae).

 

The nutrient loading that occurred with the unprecedented 25 inches of rain in the spring and early summer creating a turbid, debris strewn lake for most of July, was a set up for what occurred in September-an almost unheard of 12 day period of perfect calm, higher water temperatures, and nothing but sunlight! These tiny organisms flourished in a nutrient rich lake in a “perfect storm” scenario and released their toxins, resulting in an un-drinkable, un-swimmable lake for months.

The “dagger in the heart” was a restaurant in Syracuse with its window sign “bragging” that they don’t get their drinking water from Skaneateles Lake!!!

 

This Four Point Action Plan from the SLA was activated in October, a few weeks into the toxic bloom:

 

1) Nutrient Management Committee to study and implement control of runoff/nutrient loading into the lake – a daunting and long term task! A group of experts was recruited by SLA’s Bob Werner and Bill Dean and have already met twice, and are continuing to study on a daily basis what needs to be done to reach their goal: “develop and ensure the implementation of a plan to reduce the input of nutrients into Skaneateles Lake to levels that will greatly reduce the probability of a harmful algal bloom.

This is a very complex issue with perhaps a multitude of contributing factors to the HAB, especially on a “low phosphorous” lake. Do invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil play a role? Stay tuned for lots more information from this group!

In addition to Bob Werner (SLA) and Bill Dean (SLA), this task force includes Rich Abbott(City of Syr.), Mark Burger(Onon. Cty SWCD), Aimee Clinkhammer (DEC), Mary Sennett (SLA), Neil Murphy (SLA/ESF), Richard Wiles (SLA), Zack Odell (FLLT), and Brian Madigan (SLA).

 

2) Community Involvement Committee headed up by SLA’s Mary Menapace.

This group is focusing on what we can do as individual stakeholders and as a community, immediately and long term, to have a lasting impact on the health of Skaneateles Lake.

Mary is already working with Annette Becker writing a “best practices” booklet on how each individual can positively and negatively affect the Lake’s health with our daily routine and management of our own properties.

Carol Stokes-Cawley (Sustainable Skaneateles) along with Deb Hole and Jim Huber are helping with the editing of this booklet which will be in both hard copy and Email versions for widespread distribution.

Holly Gregg (CPCS), Debbie Bobbett (school curricula), along with Janice Wiles, Julie Scuderi, Claire Howard, Neil Murphy, Rick Garrett (H.S. Environmental Club), David LoPiccolo (adopt a stream), and Deirdre Aureden have all volunteered to help Mary coordinate community involvement.

 

Mary’s plan for citizen stakeholder’s involvement:

One-education and outreach in the form not only of printed material, but starting this winter with community forums on Best Management Practices (BMPs) on and near the watershed.

Two-serve as a resource for implementing these BMPs-such as septic maintenance, lawncare, gardening, design with natives, without using potentially toxic pesticides and fertilizers-offering guidance on direction, funding, and even use of volunteer experts.

Three-this SLA Committee to help coordinate other local Agencies (Cornell Coop. Extension, CPCS, Sustainable Skaneateles, local schools and municipalities, the City and all 3 counties, farmers, DEC) to expand and amplify their good programming, and to all work in concert toward the common goal of keeping the lake healthy.

 

3) Watershed Governance Committee. This committee is headed up by Bob Liegel and Rich Hole, working with Jim Lanning, Joe Hennigan, and Patty Orr.

Their goal is to study and develop a governance structure for implementing a watershed management plan to protect Skaneateles Lake. The governance structure would be designed to facilitate collaboration among the counties, towns, and the village in the watershed and the City of Syracuse to develop and implement a watershed management plan (using the work product of our other two committees) and to speak with one voice regarding rules, regulations, and their enforcement!

 

To date this SLA Committee has reviewed governance structures used to manage and protect other lake watersheds, spoken with representatives of these governance structures, spoken with State officials involved with protecting water supplies, and met twice in committee to review and discuss their findings.

 

This SLA Watershed Governance Committee’s success is critical since implementation of both the Nutrient Management and Community Involvement initiatives will be difficult, if not impossible, without the cooperation of all these stakeholders.

 

4) SLA Fundraising to establish a reserve fund in the SLA to address specific HAB related (and invasive species) issues as they come up, and support a full time SLA Executive Director (ED), helping to coordinate all these activities in the watershed, promoting education, and serving as a constant SLA liaison among all the stakeholders.

The ED could also be instrumental in helping with other critical SLA programs such as the robust and ever-growing Stewardship Program in the lake watershed, and the Eurasian milfoil control program which will be on-going in its 12th season.

The growing scientific evidence suggesting a correlation between zebra mussels and HABs in low nutrient lakes such as ours helps to point out how these or any invasive species can have a negative impact on the health of a lake (and regional economy) years after their introduction. The fight must go on !!

Skaneateles Press

 

 

What Now? and What Next?

The SLA has received many inquiries via our website and our board members have been asked directly “now that we have had this harmful algal bloom what do we do now and what do we do next?”.  Our board along with other stakeholders have spent considerable time since the harmful bloom was first identified consulting with and getting information from government agencies and science experts.  At the invitation of the Falcone Family the SLA organized a forum of governmental agency representatives and scientists to develop a 3 phase action plan with the intent to also work closely with the city and county to develop the watershed plan for Skaneateles Lake.

For the future, the SLA is collaborating with ESF and helping to support ESF’s testing of a commercial in-home testing strip that could be used to test for the presence of toxin in a home’s water supply.  But right now, citizens should be contacting their county health department for advice on usage of water from private water lines in Skaneateles Lake.  This could pressure those health departments to conduct their own lake-wide testing.

The literature we have reviewed and the water experts we have consulted recommend that:

  1. In-home systems include intakes that are as far from the shoreline and a deep as possible;
  2. In-home filtration systems consist of a 20 micron filter followed by a 5 micron filter followed by an ultraviolet or chlorinating system.
  3. Filters should be changed regularly. This will provide a sanitizing system, but it is not a system that removes toxins unless a chlorinating system was in place that used 10X the level of chlorine used in a sanitizing system. This would create strong chlorine tastes to the water.

Please note that there is no good data that shows that residential granulated carbon filters are of value in removing toxin.  There are reverse osmosis systems that may be helpful in removing toxin but they are expensive, require high maintenance and must be set up to ensure that the rejected effluent with the toxins does not go back into the lake.

Right now, every citizen of the lake community can support the effort to reduce nutrient loading of the lake, which along with sun, warmer water and no wind comprise the recipe for algal blooms. Two simple steps we can take right now are

  1. avoid the use of lawn fertilizers and,
  2. if you are a lake front owner collect shoreline and beachfront leaves and compost or mulch them away from the lake front or bring them to the transfer station.

Lake front owners can also begin to plan a buffer zone of plantings for the shoreline to plant in the spring.  There are many resources for these plantings and if you need information on them just send us a message on our website, SkaneatelesLake.org, via the “contact us” tab.