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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 !!

Source:  Skaneateles Press



News from the SLA: Next Steps after the Algal Bloom

Paul Torrisi

Following SLA’s very informative HAB Conference at the Hilton Garden Inn, Auburn, October 18th, much is in the works. That luncheon conference hosted by the Michael Falcone Family brought together over 100 folks from scientific experts on toxic algal blooms, representatives from local, City, County governments, Congressman Katko’s, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand’s, and Governor Cuomo’s offices.

 The NYS DEC was also well represented by Commissioner Seggos and many of his local and state colleagues. Concerned citizens were also in attendance.

 The agricultural community was represented well by Jim Greenfield, who gave an excellent presentation of Best Management Practices by farmers working closely with the County Soil and Water Districts.

 Much lively discussion with Qs & As from the audience and distinguished panel assembled by the SLA, followed. When all was said and done, however, the lingering question remains: FLUKE or NEW NORMAL?

 This toxic blue-green algal bloom was a shocker to us all! It falls under the “perfect storm” scenario with the unprecedented 25 inches of rainfall in spring/summer followed by the also rare prolonged calm, sunshine, and increased water temperatures, lasting almost two weeks in September. The cyanobacteria loved it! They had all the food from the increased sediment they could possibly wish for.  Presto- a green, unswimmable, undrinkable lake with lingering toxins.

 SLA decided to jump into action and not wait to see if this reoccurs next year or again in 5 years. The fact remains that our climate patterns are changing with temperatures trending up and more precipitation in CNY as rainfall rather than a more deliberate, slow melting spring snowpack, thus creating a recipe for repetitive severe runoff into the lake with its nutrient loading.

 So, SLA, hoping to function as a catalyst in this equation, came up with a 4 POINT ACTION PLAN as an attempt to try and “control the controllables”:

 1)  A Task Force Committee to study and control Nutrient Management and runoff into the lake, especially during the more frequent monster storms. Their goal is to develop a plan to control input of nutrients into Skaneateles Lake at levels that would greatly reduce the probability of a harmful algal bloom (HAB). Working with Bob Werner and Bill Dean are Rich Abbott (City of Syr. Water Dept.), Mark Burger (Onon.County Soil&Water Consv.District), Aimee Clinkhammer (DEC), Neil Murphy (ESF), Richard Wiles(Senior VP for Program Strategy & Integration at Climate Central,Inc.), Brian Madigan (Environmental Consultant), Zack O’Dell (FingerLakesLandTrust).

 2)  A Task Force Committee for Community Involvement. This is headed up by Mary Menapace .  Many have offered to help and as projects develop many more will be needed to assist with such things as publications, seminars and the like, to show citizens what they can do with their own properties on promoting a healthy watershed. Additionally, community “cove keepers “ and “adopt a stream” programs will be promoted. Also, many innovative policies regarding attitudes to lawn care, use of pesticides/fertilizers in the watershed, school programs, developing “watershed wise” logos and awards for homeowners and contractors- all to help keep unwanted nutrients and sediments from entering the lake.

 3)  Fund raising to establish a reserve fund in the SLA to address specific issues and/or projects as they come up, assist in work necessary to apply for larger governmental grants, and also to support a full time watershed management coordinator to help expedite ALL of the above.

 4)  Finally, a special SLA committee headed up by Bob Liegel,Esq. and Rich Hole,Esq. to look into establishing a Watershed Council or Intermunicipal Organization of all the watershed municipalities to speak with one voice regarding watershed rules and regulations, and enforcement ! This would help unify the entire watershed and expedite much of the work that needs to be accomplished.

 Needless to say, we, as a CNY and Skaneateles Lake community have a daunting task ahead of us but the resources may become available from government and private sources to help pull this all together. All we can do as individual stakeholders is take a “personal pledge” to do everything possible to keep the lake blue, not green.

 To be continued….