Harmful Algal Bloom Updates
The City of Geneva and Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association have collaborated to further the harmful algal bloom education efforts of residents and visitors of Geneva. Seven informative metal HAB signs have been installed on Geneva lakefront property in August, 2021, just before the Seneca Pure Waters' HAB Monitoring season began.
Joseph Venuti, Director of Public Works for the city, and Kaitlin Fello, Association Director of Seneca Pure Waters met in June to discuss HABs, and the importance of educating the public about harmful algal blooms, or cyanobacteria blooms. These signs illustrate how to visibly identify a harmful algal bloom, describe symptoms of exposure, and advise on the "when it doubt, stay out!" slogan, to protect people and pets. The signs were developed and purchased as part of a grant funded by the Ontario County Water Resources Council.
Subsequently, the HAB signs were installed in highly observable locations in August by city employees. "Tens of thousands of residents and tourists can learn from these long lasting, colorful signs as they enjoy the Geneva lakefront", said Kaitlin Fello, Association Director of Pure Waters. "We are grateful to the City of Geneva for their partnership on this project, and encouraged by all of the green infrastructure projects being installed around the city".
Walking path towards Seneca Lake State park.
City Boat Launch.
Lakefront Playground near Long Pier.
Attached to the doggie waste station.
In front of the Finger Lakes Welcome Center and adjacent to the I Heart NY sign.
Public dock that launches over 100 boat tours per summer.
Docks in front of the Ramada Inn.
Observation Dates: Thru 9/05/2021
% Zones Monitored: 71%
Suspicious Blooms: 9
Confirmed Blooms: 12
The blooms are now in full swing. Just as in previous years, Labor Day weekend saw a spike in bloom activity. Prior to September 4th, most blooms were very scattered and light, making it hard to tell whether they were a bloom from photographs. Starting on the fourth, that was not a problem any more. Blooms were widespread, all toward the southern end of the lake. Mostly along the eastern shoreline from about Sampson State Park and south. On the fourth there were 14 reports and 9 confirmed blooms.
Last year a similar first big day happened on August 31st, but then, unlike other years, we didn’t have many blooms the rest of September. In most years, we see cycles with a day or two of extensive blooms with a respite between.
Check the Pure Waters HAB website (www.senecalake.org/Blooms) for the latest information.
Observation Dates: Thru 8/29/2021
% Zones Monitored: 75%
Suspicious Blooms: 2
Confirmed Blooms: 5
Seneca Lake saw its first confirmed blooms of the season this last week. Thursday and Friday kicked it off with 3 confirmed blooms (plus one suspicious bloom) in the Northeast, near Sampson Marina. After a northerly wind on Friday, Saturday saw two confirmed blooms (plus one suspicious bloom) in the southern end.
When we say something is confirmed, it means we have evidence that convinces us that what the volunteer saw was, in fact, a bloom. Sometimes we do not get a photo, so we cannot make an independent assessment. Other times, the photographic evidence is not conclusive or the amount of cyanobacteria does not appear to be enough to meet the DEC bloom criteria. The cyanobacteria can be visible before it is dense enough to be considered a “bloom”.
In past years, the first week of September usually had a sudden spike in blooms. Given many people will want to be in the water for Labor Day weekend, extra care should be taken to “look before your leap.” If in doubt, do not go in the area where there are visible blooms.
From the rains, we have seen a lot of debris and weeds in the lake. Duckweed has been something that is being mistaken for a HAB, possibly because it floats on the water and takes the form of “dots”. As a reminder, cyanobacteria blooms do not have mass—duckweed does.
If you take a stick and dip it in a HAB, it will break up. Duckweed will move around, but the dots will stay intact. Do not put a bare hand into a suspect area.
In 2019, we decided to have regional get-togethers so volunteers could meet each other and the HAB program leadership. They proved to be very popular and useful.
Of course, we could not get together in 2020, but with the COVID restrictions relaxing, especially in outdoor settings, the HABs team recently set up four regional “happy hours” to have some fun and meet one another. This year we again have about 120 Pure Waters HAB shoreline monitors, but we also invited other water quality volunteers—CSLAP, stream sampling, and invasive species.
Many thanks to our four “hosts”: Barnstormer Winery, Bottomless Brewing, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, and Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Brewery. We were able to schedule our events on evenings they were open with music and food trucks.
Very positive feedback from the volunteers who attended. We all learned a lot from each other and perhaps even made some new friends (or at least acquaintances). Being able to meet other people, who are also concerned about the lake, is another benefit of volunteering with Pure Waters. Please consider joining us, we have a few gaps to fill, especially in the southern half of the lake.
We had no confirmed blooms last week, but we did have one report on Saturday where photos showed cyanobacteria present. We didn’t believe it was dense enough to be a bloom per the NYS DEC definition of ≥ 25 µg/L of blue-green Chlorophyll. Friday through Sunday found excellent bloom conditions, but we still are not seeing them pop up. Volunteers continue to monitor around the lake.
Other lakes have started seeing blooms again, including Canandaigua, Cayuga, and Keuka. Blooms have affected beaches in some locations.
SWIO is a non-profit organization whose membership includes the 40-plus municipalities (counties, cities, villages, and towns) within the watershed or who draw water from Seneca Lake. It is just a few years old and is still in the process of gaining support from the all of the watershed’s municipalities to ensure becomes self-sustaining.
SWIO employs the Seneca Watershed Steward, Ian Smith. The Watershed Steward is crucial for current and future initiatives aimed at controlling nutrient flows into the lake. This position was initially funded for two years by a state grant, spearheaded by area state legislators (the position was filled in April 2019). Now local funding is required.
To be viable, SWIO must obtain adequate funding from its members. SWIO has calculated a “fair share” for each municipality using a multiple-factor formula similar to the one used on Canandaigua Lake for more than 20 years. While the amount of water drawn from the lake is the most important factor, other factors such as length of shoreline, property values, land area, and population also are considered in the calculation. Notably, the average Seneca municipality share is much lower than comparable Canandaigua municipalities since there are many more member entities in the Seneca watershed to share the costs.
Pure Waters has been working closely with SWIO leadership and the Watershed Steward to engage municipalities and encourage them to become active members—in particular to budget their “fair share.” Unfortunately, too many have deemed clean water not worthy of their fiscal support.
Even municipalities drawing extensive amounts of drinking water are not fully participating, despite large water system budgets and modest “fair shares” (the City of Geneva’s fair share is only about $10,000 and the Village of Waterloo’s is about $4,000). Some towns, such as the Town of Benton, draw water from wells that are hydrologically connected to the lake and therefore still have a stake in its water quality. Benton’s fair share is just over $2,000.
To their credit, many municipalities have willingly signed up and budgeted their “fair share”. Most noteworthy are Seneca and Ontario Counties; the Village of Watkins Glen; and the Towns of Geneva, Hector, Starkey, and Torrey.
Week 2 is in the books and there were no blooms found. We had fairly strong southerly winds during the week, so blooms were unlikely. The weekend calmed down and was sunny, but no blooms were spotted. There was one bloom report on Sunday, but a careful photo review and discussion determined it was not a HAB.
The water temperature is likely to peak soon and Seneca Lake blooms typically start soon after that happens.
Check the Pure Waters HAB website (senecalake.org/Blooms) for the latest information. The real-time bloom scorecard tabulates the number of reported blooms and surveys on the lake “today”, “this week”, and “last week”. There is also background information and links for more details.
One key factor for HAB formation is nutrient level. Controlling nutrients requires a broad coalition working toward the same goal. This week’s article highlights a key partner in that endeavor, the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (SWIO) and its effort to become self-sustaining.
We will provide some photos in each Bloom Watch to help everyone better identify blooms.
This week, we look at intensity. The photos above were taken on Seneca Lake last year. The first photo was a bloom spotted in October as the season was winding down. At the beginning and end of the season, blooms tend to be smaller and less intense. The bottom photo was taken on August 31st, the most active day last year. Typical of blooms in the main season, this bloom is widespread and very intense. Surprisingly, visual intensity may not correlate directly with toxicity. When Pure Waters has sampled blooms in previous years, blooms such as these two sometimes came back with about the same level of toxins. Therefore, always assume a bloom is toxic and stay away.
SHORELINE MONITORING SCORECARD
Observation Dates: Thru 8/8/2021
% Zones Monitored: 75%
Suspicious Blooms: 0
Confirmed Blooms: 0
Week 1 is in the books and there were no blooms found. Not unusual for Seneca Lake in early August. Week 2 began on August 9th.
As the team watches for the first blooms, the question always comes up about whether they can be forecast. The short answer is no, however, there is an interesting federal program that might allow us to detect increased cyanobacteria activity before actual blooms occur. The Pure Waters HAB program is monitoring satellite products designed to detect cyanobacteria to see if there are satellite detections before our volunteers see blooms. So far this summer, there have been virtually no satellite detections of cyanobacteria in Seneca Lake, whereas there have been in nearby Finger Lakes.
Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN)
CyAN is a multi-agency project among the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to develop an early warning indicator system to detect algal blooms in U.S. freshwater systems.
EPA's Cyanobacteria Assessment Network mobile application (CyAN app) is an easy-to-use and customizable app that provides access to cyanobacterial bloom satellite data for over 2,000 of the largest lakes and reservoirs across the United States, including all the Finger Lakes. EPA scientists developed the app to help local and state water quality managers make faster and better-informed management decisions related to cyanobacterial blooms.
The app allows the user to select points of interest and then provides the latest results when cyanobacteria were detected, including enhanced satellite imagery. The images are color coded for cyanobacteria intensity from violet to red—low to high. No response (i.e., clouds block the view) pixels are black. Non detects are gray.
Since Seneca Lake is large and tends not to show detections, the HAB team selected a nearby lake that almost always shows cyanobacteria. That way, an image is almost always available (with about a 1-to-2-day lag time) for the whole lake.
The first image below is the entire image from August 4th that contains the Finger Lakes. These high-resolution images allow the user to zoom in to individual lake data with 300-meter resolution. The second image shows the southern portion of Seneca Lake, along with Keuka, Lamoka, and Waneta Lakes. There is a small detection on the eastern arm of Keuka, bluff side, but hard to see at this zoom level (much easier with the original picture). The small lake showing cyanobacteria returns southeast of Watkins Glen is Cayuta Lake.
More information on the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN) can be found on the EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/water-research/cyanobacteria-assessment-network-cyan.
More information on the CyAN web-based and Android applications is found at https://www.epa.gov/water-research/cyanobacteria-assessment-network-application-cyan-app
This week, we contrast blooms with another phenomenon. The photo on the left was taken this year in a small tributary that was blocked from entering Keuka Lake. It is NOT a cyanobacteria bloom. The green splotches are a macro algae, commonly seen in stagnant water such as ditches. The photo on the right is a cyanobacteria bloom (HAB) from Seneca Lake last year.
Key differences are:
Keep up with Pure Waters:
Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association
P.O. Box 247
Geneva, NY 14456