By Bill Roege and Val Sewell
Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring Program
My name is William (Bill) Roege. In addition to serving as a board member for the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, I serve as the Hazardous Algal Bloom (HAB) program director. I took over the HAB program in mid-2019, after serving as the assistant director for about 8 months, and started as a HAB monitor in 2017. I also do stream monitoring and am a backup for the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP). My wife and I moved to the area full-time in October 2016, and joined Pure Waters at that time.
What are the main objectives of the HAB Monitoring Program?
The main objectives of the HABs program are to find HABs in order to notify the public as well as gather data for researchers. There are multiple aspects of the program. Shoreline monitoring volunteers look for HABs in designated zones and report them through a special software application (app), providing information about the size and extent of the HABs along with photos. We modified our sampling methods in 2020 when the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) dropped its sampling/testing program due to funding limitations and covid-19, so we now confirm HABs with photographic evidence with >90 accuracy. Incoming HAB Reports are automatically transferred to multiple spreadsheets and the data populates a map shown on the Pure Waters’ HAB webpage. Confirmed HABs are input into the New York statewide database maintained by DEC and then are visible on its map as well. We had 117 monitors in 2021, covering about 80% of the Seneca Lake shoreline.
We are also piloting an offshore reporting system, where volunteers can report blooms from anywhere on the lake. The system reads the location from the photo. We hope to expand that program in 2022.
We partner with Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) for research. We have eight volunteer locations around the lake where HWS installs weather stations, water temperature gauges, and time lapse cameras on the eight dock. HWS collects the data and does extensive analysis to see if it can shed light on HAB causes and origins. This program is also used on other lakes and provides a comparison between lakes.
Why is the HAB Monitoring Program so important to you personally? What is your motivation for dedicating your time and talent to Seneca Pure Waters?
When moving to Seneca Lake from Virginia, a neighbor suggested I get involved with Pure Waters. I enjoy science, so participating in citizen science activities was a natural fit for me. Upon retiring, I wanted to give back to my new community. Seneca Lake is clearly the keystone for the local economy and as someone who grew up caring about the environment, helping make the lake better is an easy call.
Tell us about your role as a director for this program. What are your key responsibilities?
The director is responsible for everything about the program. Program direction, budgeting, recruiting, IT and data management, training, the Bloom Watch report, newsletter, etc. We have four Regional Coordinators who work directly with volunteers to ease the workload there. Winter is planning time, when we determine what activities to take on and settle on the budget. Spring is recruiting season, as well as setting up the reporting system and new databases. In early summer we train the volunteers. August through October constitutes the HAB monitoring season. We encourage the volunteers to get out and look for HABs and we do a weekly newsletter to inform the public. After the season, we analyze the data and set up educational events to talk about how the season went.
How is the collected data used to protect Seneca Lake?
Multiple state agencies and universities use our data to correlate with other data sets to try and better understand what is happening with HABs, not only on Seneca Lake, but in general. SLPWA-sponsored research at HWS results in an annual report on the findings. The program does not necessarily help protect the lake, but it does help protect people and pets from toxic algal blooms.
How can the public help?
We are always looking for volunteers, not only to check the shoreline, but to help administer the program. This is a very visible and satisfying program to be a part of. One does not need to live on the lake to contribute meaningfully. You can sign up to volunteer at anytime on our website, www.senecalake.org/volunteer .