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DEC algal bloom action plans: upgrade septics, stop invasive species, grant funding

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Skaneateles Lake in 2017.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released action plans for 12 waterbodies affected by harmful algal blooms. The state is partnering with local communities to reduce and eliminate the blooms.

Jacqueline Lendrum, the director of Water Resource Management, said they know that nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous contribute to the blooms, but there are still unanswered questions. For example, Lendrum said Owasco Lake has a low amount of phosphorous, but is plagued by horrible, widespread blooms.

“Nutrients combined with invasive species is creating a more complicated scenario in these waterbodies," Lendrum said. "Invasive mussels were definitely part of the conversation with Owasco. That was something that came out as a common thread of other waterbodies where we do see other more extensive algal blooms, you’re also seeing those invasive mussels.”

The action plans identify ways to reduce blooms, like having boat wash stations to prevent the spread of invasive species, like mussels. Lendrum said for some of the downstate waterbodies, septics may be a contributing factor.

“Those local steering committees identified septic replacements, possible sewering projects, possible septic cluster projects, ways to modernize septic treatment in and around those waterbodies,” Lendrum said.

Close to $60 million in funding programs are available from the state now through July 27. Farmers can go to their Soil and Water Conservation district for assistance updating their nutrient management plans.

“If you’re a municipality looking to do storm water retrofits or to upgrade your wastewater treatment plant, come see us, DEC will help you,” Lendrum said.

Skaneateles Lake

The city of Syracuse gets its drinking water from Skaneateles Lake, which had an unexpected harmful algal bloom last year. Joseph Awald, the commissioner of water said it was a perfect storm.

“From the heavy rains in July, which washed a lot of nutrients into the lake, then from late summer to early fall, we have that long stretch of 90 degree days," Awald said. "During that time it was extremely calm, like little to no wind.”

The city is proactively sampling and testing the water. They also just put in new chlorination lines to the intakes. Another option is to extend the intakes into deeper water, but that could cost millions of dollars.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.