This week, harmful algal blooms (HABs) have been discovered in Mirror Lake and Lake George. While not all algae are toxic, these water bodies have been tested and contain toxic cyanobacteria, meaning this is not just a nuisance discoloration of the water: these water bodies are a risk for use as a water source for drinking or cooking, to recreate in, or have pets around. It is the first time confirmed HABs have been reported in either lake.
According to the New York State Department of Health, exposure to high levels of cyanotoxins may cause the following: diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting; skin, eye, or throat irritation; and/or allergic reactions or breathing issues. The cause of these algal blooms is unclear. While the unseasonable warm and calm may have contributed to the problem, excess nutrients entering the water is a leading cause.
The Upper Saranac Foundation’s (USF) efforts to prevent nutrients entering the watershed — including those coming from ineffective or outdated septic systems, storm water runoff, and from fertilizers — have increased in recent years. With the growing number of HABs that are occurring, and within close proximity to our region, there is more work we can do collectively to assure water quality.
These occurrences are indicators that Upper Saranac Lake (USL) is not exempt from this happening and it should be a wake-up call for our community. While it wasn’t classified as toxic, those that lived on the lake in 1990 can’t forget the lake-wide algae bloom that remained throughout the entire summer season. There have been blooms of lesser extent in subsequent years on USL, as recent as 2017. This year, HABs were confirmed in our watershed on Whey and Rollins Ponds, and Lake Clear.
Major and persistent blooms are frightening for water-dependent tourism areas such as the Lake George, Lake Placid, and USL regions. Algae growth severely hampers drinking water, recreation, and tourism. Consistent blooms over the summer on Lake Champlain have regularly closed public beaches. USF focuses on various educational and outreach initiatives to prevent algae blooms from becoming a consistent problem.
What can you do?
Know it — Blue-green algae appear as strongly colored (blue-green, green, yellow, brown, purple, or red) paint like floating mats or scum on the water.
Avoid it — Take the following steps to limit your exposure:
- Don’t swim, fish, boat, or wade in areas with blooms.
- Don’t eat fish caught from areas with algae blooms.
- Don’t drink, bathe, wash dishes, or prepare food with water containing blue-green algae.
- If you, your family, or your pet have been in contact with a HAB, rinse with clean water, and report any symptoms to your local health department.
Report it — Report suspected blooms to the DEC: https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/77118.html. Consider visiting a healthcare provider if you, your family, or your animals are experiencing symptoms related to HABs. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting; skin, eye, or throat irritation; and allergic reactions or breathing difficulties.
Prevent it — You can do your part to lessen the chances of a bloom:
- Maintain your septic system to prevent wastewater from leaking and seeping into ground and surface water.
- Maintain a native vegetative buffer along the lakefront and tributaries to prevent stormwater runoff from directly entering the lake.
- Avoid the use of fertilizers.
- Replace expanses of lawn with landscape patches of trees, shrubs, and mulch to capture and hold rain water and divert on-site runoff and rain gutters to gardens or small depressions where water has time to infiltrate the soil.
- Reduce the total amount of impermeable surfaces by replacing them with natural walkways, gravel, or permeable pavements. Avoid the use of asphalt near the lake.
USF monitors and assesses lake water quality and has an Emergency Preparedness Operation Policy in place if a Harmful Algal Bloom is suspected. This includes testing, reporting, monitoring, and public notifications.