Algal blooms are showing up in the news this summer more often and closer to our watershed. Just last week, Burlington closed three city beaches on Lake Champlain, and one month prior two dogs died from blue-green algae poisoning in Vermont. A suspected toxic algal bloom was reported in the beginning of July close by at Meacham lake, just a few miles north of the Upper Saranac watershed.

Algae growth severely hampers drinking water, recreation, and tourism. Certain types of algae can grow quickly and form blooms, which can cover all or portions of a lake. Not all blooms are necessarily unsafe, but 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 harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Can a HAB happen in the Upper Saranac watershed? 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, as recent as 2017.

Weather conditions this season has been prime for the development of HAB’s. Heavy spring 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 state Department of Environmental Conservation (HABsInfo@dec.ny.gov) or the state Department of Health (harmfulalgae@health.ny.gov). Consider visiting a healthcare provider if you, your family, or your animals are experiencing symptoms related to blue-green algae blooms. 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 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.

The Upper Saranac Foundation 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.