FAYETTE — There’s a growing consensus among experts that Harmful Algal Blooms are increasing in frequency and intensity.
Those attending a Finger Lakes water quality symposium at Ventosa Vineyards on Thursday were told that the Finger Lakes are particularly susceptible to HABs because of nutrient runoff, warming water temperatures and the presence of zebra and quagga mussels.
Dave Matthews of the Upstate Freshwater Institute said his analysis of all available data from a variety of sources tells him that the Finger Lakes, including Seneca, Cayuga, Keuka and Canandaigua lakes, have optimal conditions for those algal blooms to contain cyanobacteria, which can be harmful to animals and humans if ingested.
“We are heading into the peak of the HAB season now,” he said. “We’re seeing that 80 percent of the HABs are on the shorelines and 24 percent of them are toxic. The Finger Lakes have a lot of open agricultural land and little forested land, another factor in increasing HABs and increasing toxicity.”
Sponsored by the Finger Lake Regional Watershed Alliance, the symposium was moderated by Lisa Cleckner, executive director of the Finger Lakes Institute in Geneva.
“The goal for all of us is to protect the Finger Lakes for many uses, including as an economic tool. Business and the environment do not have to be in opposition to water quality protections,” Cleckner said.
Erica Paolicelli, co-owner of Three Brothers Wineries and Estates in Fayette, said almost the entire economy of the Finger Lakes region depends on the watershed and lake protections.
“Finger Lakes is a worldwide brand for wines and breweries and more,” Paolicelli said. “That brand and the beauty of the area and the quality of the water has helped us see more and more visitors from other states and the world since we opened in 2007.”
She said Three Brothers attracts 250,000 visitors a year and its business has expanded “all because of the Finger Lakes.”
Nancy Mueller of the New York State Federation of Lake Associations, said a key part of protecting lakes is volunteer lake association members who monitor the lakes where they live.
“They are the first responders for invasive species, HABs and other water quality issues,” she said, noting that there are now more than 250 lake associations in the state, monitoring more than 150 lakes in partnership with the state DEC.
Mueller said the citizen associations also are involved with dam repairs, fisheries and watershed protection efforts.
Hillary Mosher is with the Finger Lake Institute and the Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management or PRISM.
“We need to step up our prevention efforts early before an invasive species, whether plant or fish, takes hold. Once an invasion explodes, it’s often too late,” Mosher said.
She said the PRISM program works to eradicate and contain invasive species, including cleaning boats that come to the Finger Lakes from other areas and may carry invasive species with them.
“Fishing tournaments in the Finger Lakes draw people from all over. We need to make sure they don’t bring in invasives on their boats and trailers,” Mosher said.
She said volunteers are looking for hydrilla, water chestnuts and starry stonewort.
Aimee Clinkhammer of the DEC’s Finger Lakes Hub program started in 2017, works extensively in the HABs arena. She said phosphorus, an accelerant for algae growth, is below the limits for concern in terms of micrograms per liter for water in the Finger Lakes, a positive factor. Despite that, however, she said the presence of HABs is increasing.
“More invasive species, climate change increasing lake temperatures and more nutrients flowing in the lakes are factors, and we are trying to monitor and address that,” Clinkhammer said.
Sophisticated data platforms installed in Cayuga and Seneca lakes by the U.S. Geological Services are providing instant data on lake conditions to help monitor HABs and assist in reducing their presence.