Algal blooms are showing up in the news more consistently. Now these Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) have reached the Upper Saranac Lake (USL) watershed.
The DEC has recently confirmed outbreaks in Whey and Rollins ponds, and Lake Clear. While not all algae are toxic, these locations 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.
Certain types of algae can grow quickly and form blooms, which can cover all or portions of a lake. Some species of algae can produce toxins that grow out of control and can be harmful to people and animals. Blooms of algal species that can produce toxins are referred to as HABs.
The Rollins Pond and Whey Pond blooms are considered large outbreaks, while Lake Clear was determined to be small and localized. All three of these water bodies are upstream tributaries to USL.
Can a HAB happen on Upper Saranac Lake? While it wasn’t classified as toxic, those that lived on the lake in 1990 can’t forget the lake-wide algae bloom that ruined the entire summer season. There have been blooms of lesser extent in subsequent years on USL, as recent as 2017.
Major and persistent blooms are frightening for water-dependent tourism areas such as the USL region. 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.
Weather conditions this season have been prime for the development of HABs. Heavy rains introducing nutrients into the water followed by hot calm spells combine to create larger-than-usual algae growth.
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 rainwater 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.