While Upper Saranac Lake (USL) has had numerous algal blooms over the years, including a lake-wide bloom in 1989, this past summer was the first confirmed harmful algal bloom (HAB). HABs occurred twice on USL this year, the first and last weeks of September. These HABs are toxic and capable of producing contaminants that can cause adverse health effects in people and animals.
Fertilizer, stormwater runoff, and septic issues are not new in the Adirondacks, but they’ve been compounded by climate change. Warmer water temperatures lengthen the growing season for algae and allow it to float to the surface.
As more HABs are being identified, New York State is also investing more into understanding them. The number of water bodies statewide with HABs has steadily increased since the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) started keeping track in 2012.
In 2018, the governor’s office announced a $65 million initiative to aggressively combat HABs in
upstate New York. A team of experts were tasked with initiating a pilot program that developed HAB Action Plans for 12 priority lakes that were considered vulnerable to HABs, were critical sources of drinking water, and were vital tourism drivers. The goal was to identify contributing factors fueling HABs and implement innovative strategies to address their causes and protect water quality.
While Upper Saranac Lake wasn’t chosen as one of the water bodies for the pilot program, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from and apply the information obtained from other lakes facing similar threats.
A common HAB-causing component among the plans focuses on waste water and unfiltered stormwater runoff entering the lakes. These contributors provide existing algae with an extra boost of nutrients to thrive and lead to the harmful blooms.
A key mitigation strategy is reducing the heavy nutrient influx that results from shoddy wastewater practices and storm runoff. Among the action plans for Lake George, one of the 12 pilots, is the installation of stormwater reduction controls and the implementation of an inspection and maintenance program for near-shore septic systems.
The Upper Saranac Foundation has supported research projects and educational and outreach efforts consistent with the Action Plans. Additional action items would need to be supported by local government and could be funded through programs such as the Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP).
According to the state HABs map, blooms have occurred on numerous nearby Adirondack lakes this year including Upper Saranac Lake, Lower Saranac Lake, Meacham Lake, Whey Pond, Copperas Pond, Rat Pond, Barnum Pond, Fern Lake, and numerous sites on Lake Champlain.