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Auburn to experiment with filter for blue-green algae in Owasco Lake

Ellen Abbott
Rep. John Katko calls for more federal spending on water systems.

To the unknowing observer, charcoal may seem like an unlikely solution to toxic algae blooms in Owasco Lake. But that’s what Auburn city officials are hoping to use to prevent those toxins from getting into the city’s drinking water, which is sourced from the lake.

Toxins from algae are known to make humans and animals sick, and there are possible long-term health implications.

Auburn Mayor Michael Quill says active charcoal, as it’s called, is well-suited to blocking those toxins.

“The particles from the active charcoal, they absorb the pollutants from the algae, and it settles to the bottom,” Quill said. 

The problem was identified last summer when traces of toxins from blue-green algae turned up in drinking water drawn from Owasco Lake. Now, Quill says the filtration plan is the only way to deal with something that cannot be otherwise contained.

“We’ve had scientists working for us, engineers, for a couple years now trying to resolve this,” Quill said. “What we’re understanding is there’s no cure for it.”

But Quill says the filtration won’t come cheap, and it isn’t a permanent solution.  

“It’s in the million dollar range. One, two million dollars for this temporary fix,” Quill said. “And then if that proves itself, then there’s going to be additional costs for something more permanent.

The city has received help from the state. Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) is calling on more federal spending for water systems. Quill says he’s hopeful that this will prevent the project from getting too costly, but is concerned that the impermanence of the solution will prove even more expensive.

“We’re hoping that’ll be the final product, that’ll work,” Quill said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to spend a lot of money and that not be the answer. We want to take baby steps, but with big shoes.” 

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.