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DEC algal bloom action plans: upgrade septics, stop invasive species, grant funding

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Algae bloom on Chautauqua Lake.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released action plans for 12 waterbodies affected by harmful algal blooms. The state is partnering with local communities to reduce and eliminate the blooms.

Jacqueline Lendrum, the director of Water Resource Management, said they know that nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous contribute to the blooms, but there are still unanswered questions. For example, Lendrum said Owasco Lake has a low amount of phosphorous, but is plagued by horrible, widespread blooms.

“Nutrients combined with invasive species is creating a more complicated scenario in these waterbodies," Lendrum said. "Invasive mussels were definitely part of the conversation with Owasco. That was something that came out as a common thread of other waterbodies where we do see other more extensive algal blooms, you’re also seeing those invasive mussels.”

The action plans identify ways to reduce blooms, like having boat wash stations to prevent the spread of invasive species, like mussels. Lendrum said for some of the downstate waterbodies, septics may be a contributing factor.

“Those local steering committees identified septic replacements, possible sewering projects, possible septic cluster projects, ways to modernize septic treatment in and around those waterbodies,” Lendrum said.

Chautauqua Lake is the Western New York waterbody with a DEC Action Plan. Close to $60 million in funding programs are available from the state now through July 27. Farmers can go to their Soil and Water Conservation district for assistance updating their nutrient management plans.

“If you’re a municipality looking to do storm water retrofits or to upgrade your wastewater treatment plant, come see us. DEC will help you,” Lendrum said.

The action plans come as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting a significant algae bloom for Lake Erie. 

Environmental Defence says Lake Erie has suffered from increasingly frequent and severe algae blooms.  The environmental advocacy group says that's in part due to a lack of enforcement of existing pollution prevention laws. It says the blooms threaten drinking water, suffocate fish, deter tourists and cost the economies of communities on the lake more than $270 million each year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Tom Magnarelli is a freelance reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area.
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