Land trust urges mea­sures against al­gae blooms

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Michael Virtanen

A con­ser­va­tion group says $100 mil­lion of con­ser­va­tion mea­sures are needed dur­ing the next decade to pro­tect New York’s Fin­ger Lakes, where five of the wa­ter­ways had sig­nif­i­cant out­breaks of toxic al­gae last year.

In a re­port re­leased this week, The Fin­ger Lakes Land Trust said agri­cul­tural runoff and the warm­ing cli­mate are low­er­ing wa­ter qual­ity. It’s ad­vo­cat­ing buy­ing land and con­ser­va­tion ease­ments to help buf­fer the 11 wa­ter­ways, cre­ate new wet­lands, pre­serve farms, pro­tect drink­ing wa­ter and leave re­main­ing shore­line un­de­vel­oped.

“Soil ero­sion from farm fields and con­tam­i­na­tion from lakeshore sep­tic sys­tems both in­crease the like­li­hood of fu­ture toxic al­gal blooms,” the re­port said. “All 11 lakes are at risk.”

The al­gae can cause nau­sea and throat ir­ri­ta­tion if swal­lowed. It also can cause and skin and eye ir­ri­ta­tion and can make an­i­mals sick.

Last year, it af­fected parts of two smaller and shal­lower lakes that warm more read­ily — Cone­sus and Ho­neoye — and deeper, colder Owasco, Canandaigua and Seneca lakes.

The trust man­ages or mon­i­tors nearly 20,000 acres of na­ture pre­serves and ease­ments in 12 coun­ties, about one-third of them open to the pub­lic. The re­port was based on a year­long as­sess­ment with in­put from 40 other non­prof­its, county and re­gional plan­ning depart­ments and govern­ment con­ser­va­tion agen­cies.

The state De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion main­tains on­line list­ings statewide of harm­ful al­gae blooms and showed 125 last year. They ranged from Cen­tral Park Lake in Man­hat­tan, on the list for 22 weeks, to Lake Placid in the Adiron­dacks, listed for five weeks.

“It’s a much broader phe­nom­e­non,” said An­drew Zepp, trust ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. “It’s what­ever moves dirt and nu­tri­ents into a lake.”

For the Fin­ger Lakes, long known for their clean wa­ters, the is­sue is crit­i­cal, ac­cord­ing to the trust. The lakes pro­vide drink­ing wa-

ter for a mil­lion peo­ple in western New York and sup­port an es­ti­mated $2 bil­lion in an­nual tourism along­side $1 bil­lion in agri­cul­ture.

Last year’s es­pe­cially wet spring washed lots of nu­tri­ents

into the lakes fol­lowed by a warm and sunny sum­mer, while this year’s rel­a­tive drought meant less runoff, Zepp said.

Blooms were found this year in Cayuga, Ho­neoye, Canandaigua, Seneca and Owasco, ac­cord­ing to the DEC.

The agency said Fri­day anec­do­tal re­ports in­di­cate blooms have in­creased in

fre­quency and du­ra­tion within the last decade, but a well-doc­u­mented record is lack­ing.

New York is spend­ing more than $5 mil­lion to study why blooms are hap­pen­ing in Owasco Lake and do­ing pro­jects in its wa­ter­shed to re­duce them, DEC spokes­woman Erica Ringe­wald said. The state will keep work­ing with lo­cal

of­fi­cials to find ef­fec­tive ways to re­duce oc­cur­rences in the Fin­ger Lakes and across New York, she said.

The trust has con­tacted state con­ser­va­tion, parks and agri­cul­ture agen­cies about pos­si­ble fund­ing, Zepp said. They’re look­ing into fed­eral fund­ing and pos­si­ble pri­vate sup­port as well.

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