The FUND launches Multi-faceted Rapid Response to Lake’s First Harmful Algal Bloom

Dear Friend of The FUND:

I am pleased to report that The FUND for Lake George, with the immediate engagement of The Jefferson Project — The FUND’s environmental research collaboration with IBM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — has rapidly responded to the Lake’s first confirmed harmful algal bloom (HAB), discovered in Harris Bay on the northeast side of Assembly Point on Monday, Nov. 9.

The multi-faceted mobilization will complement the investigation being conducted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation by focusing on identifying the physical, biological, and chemical factors responsible for the bloom, with the objective of informing actions required to head off and prevent future HABs:

  • On Monday afternoon, scientists from The Jefferson Project collected samples of the algae and sent them out for detailed laboratory analysis. The genetic heterogeneity of algae can vary significantly within a bloom, and the more species-specific information that can be obtained, the more meaningful it is in diagnosing the bloom’s origins. Analysis by The Jefferson Project will also include an assessment of whether the HAB was producing toxins.
  • On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Jefferson Project vertical profilers were deployed at the site of the confirmed bloom and at a second location to provide monitoring for comparative analysis. Vertical profilers are sophisticated monitoring tools that collect data on water temperatures, algal abundance, pH, oxygen, iron, salinity and turbidity at various depths throughout the water column. Similar data was also collected around the site and in adjacent bays using hand-held sampling devices as well as by taking physical water samples for the analysis of nutrients, algae, and the sediments. With air temperatures continuing to be unseasonably warm, it is expected that water conditions were much like they were at the time of the bloom. 
  • In the coming days, team members will continue to gather data with the vertical profilers, and collect additional physical samples. The data will be analyzed by Jefferson Project researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton Landing and run through the Project’s highly advanced computer models designed to identify and simultaneously assess multiple physical, chemical, and biological factors influencing Lake George water quality. These same models were recently used by the Project to determine the likely cause of HABs in Skaneateles Lake, which experienced its first bloom in 2017. With its clean, clear waters, Skaneateles is considered a “sister lake” of Lake George. Both lakes were included in the State’s 12-lake Harmful Algal Bloom Initiative launched in 2017 by Governor Cuomo.

The discovery of the Harris Bay bloom provides both a warning and an opportunity.

The bloom shows that, despite its world-renowned water quality, Lake George is not immune to the HABs threat. The escalating threat of HABs has been driving The FUND’s comprehensive commitments to curbing excessive levels of nutrients from aging wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, and from stormwater runoff that together feed algae growth and the potential for HABs.

This bloom also provides a real-time opportunity to build on the unparalleled work already underway by The Jefferson Project to understand the complex underlying conditions that, combined with high nutrient levels, lead to HAB occurrences.  This knowledge will guide much more targeted and effective measures to stop HABs from occurring in the future.

The Harris Bay bloom was confirmed by NYSDEC after the suspicious formation was spotted by a volunteer participant in the Department’s Citizen Statewide Lake Assessment Program and reported to the Lake George Association.

The FUND applauds the citizen who noticed and quickly reported the bloom. Their fast action allowed our Jefferson Project partners to mobilize the scientific expertise and technological assets required for detailed assessment of the problem and what it will take to solve it. 

Harmful algal blooms have appeared with increasing frequency in lakes throughout New York State and across the country in recent years, in some cases devastating lake ecology and lake-based economies as the resulting pea soup-like water conditions have chased away recreational tourism, depressed property values, and contaminated waters that, like Lake George, serve as drinking water supplies. As HABs continue to escalate, they have become a critical focus of The Jefferson Project. The Harris Bay bloom underscores the Project’s importance in both understanding the mounting HAB threat to Lake George, and advancing The FUND’s science-based advocacy to protect the Lake’s still superb water quality and unsurpassed natural character.

Thank you for your continued support of The FUND. Together with The Jefferson Project and all of our partners in protection, we will ensure the lasting protection of the Queen of American Lakes.

Sincerely,

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Eric Siy

Executive Director

The FUND for Lake George