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Environment & Science

Experts: Increasing "Nutrient Load" Likely to Blame for Algal Blooms on Skaneateles Lake and Others

NY State DEC

Central New Yorkers have been dealing with occasional harmful algal blooms for years, including Owasco and Cayuga lakes. But it wasn’t until late last summer when the green organic matter showed up much closer to home.

 “The third one is the lake that perhaps among all lakes in New York State was the last one we expected to see a harmful algal bloom on, Skaneateles Lake.”

Scott Kishbaugh is with the state DEC’S bureau of water assessment, and was part of a panel of local and national experts at Tuesday night’s state algal bloom summit hosted by SUNY ESF. The DEC has been monitoring nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the three lakes, the so-called nutrient load which contributes to algal blooms. Kishbaugh says Skaneateles came as a surprise.

Credit Scott Willis
The Algal Bloom panel hosted by SUNY ESF is part of an effort to help restore water quality in Skaneateles Lake

“It’s among the lowest phosphorus concentrations that we see in any water body in New York State, and I dare say probably any water body in the country.  Again, like these other lakes, it has a mix of land uses and those interactions of the land uses and the load of nutrients may be contributing to what we’re seeing in the lake.”

The situation on Skaneateles Lake was more alarming because it’s the primary source of drinking water for more than 200,000 people in the city of Syracuse and surrounding towns. Mark Burger is Executive director of the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District. He says they’re monitoring water closest to the water supply intake pipe.

“And we’re doing that even in times when there’s not a harmful algal bloom so we can understand the land under different loads, and by loads I mean different storm events. So we’re monitoring before the storm, during the storm, and after the storm to best understand what the land is doing so we can be most effective at trying to capture that load and not let it get in to the lake and in to the intake pipes.”

The summit was the second of four being held across upstate to find ways to protect vulnerable bodies of water.  Governor Cuomo has committed $65 million to combat the blooms, which not only threaten drinking water quality, but also recreational use of the lakes during Upstate’s peak tourism season.