Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled the 12th proposal of the 2018 State of the State: implementing a $65 million 4-point initiative to aggressively combat harmful algal blooms in Upstate New York that threaten the recreational use of lakes that are important to upstate tourism, as well as sources of drinking water.
Twelve priority lakes that are vulnerable to HABs and are critical sources of drinking water and vital tourism drivers were chosen as priority waterbodies because they represent a wide range of conditions and vulnerabilities and the lessons learned will be applied to other impacted waterbodies moving forward. Those lakes are:
- Western Group: Conesus Lake; Honeoye Lake; Chautauqua Lake
- Central Group: Owasco Lake; Skaneateles Lake; Cayuga Lake
- North Country Group: Lake Champlain at Port Henry; New York portion of Lake Champlain at Isle La Motte watershed; Lake George
- Greater Hudson Valley Group: Lake Carmel; Palmer Lake; Putnam Lake; Monhagen Brook watershed, including the five reservoirs serving the Middletown area
The State's Water Quality Rapid Response Team, co-chaired by DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker, will convene four Regional Summits to bring together nation-leading experts with Steering Committees of local stakeholders established for each lake. The Rapid Response Team, national experts, and local stakeholders will collaboratively develop Action Plans to identify contributing factors fueling HABs and the state will provide $500,000 per lake to develop immediate action plans to reduce sources of pollution that spark algal blooms. The state will provide nearly $60 million in grant funding to implement the Action Plans, including new monitoring and treatment technologies.
“Protecting water quality is a top priority and through these actions and funding, we are providing direct assistance to communities to ensure their water resources remain clean,” Governor Cuomo said. “This comprehensive program will continue New York's national leadership in responding to the threat of harmful algal blooms and implement new and innovative strategies to safeguard our clean water for future generations.”
This initiative will bring together leading researchers from across the nation, including experts from Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Vermont, as well as the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY Stony Brook Center for Clean Water Technology, the New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee to share best practices and develop innovative solutions that can be replicated in water bodies across the state.
The announcement builds on the State's $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act investments in clean water infrastructure and water quality protection. Through Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York has developed the most comprehensive HABs outreach and monitoring programs in the country, led by DEC sampling ambient waters across the state and Department of Health sampling at regulated beaches and public water systems.
In recent years, the extent, duration, and impacts of HABs have increased. HABs occurrence has been linked to phosphorus and other nutrient inputs and is exacerbated by heavy rain events and warming waters related to climate change. In 2015, DOH documented an estimated 35 HAB-associated illness cases in 16 New York counties, all associated with exposure during recreational activities like swimming and boating.
In 2016, drinking water for more than 40,000 people in Cayuga County was impacted when HABs-related toxins were detected in finished drinking water for the first time. Last year, Governor Cuomo invested more than $2 million to construct state-of-the-art water treatment systems in the city of Auburn and town of Owasco to remove algal toxins from drinking water supplies, and established the Finger Lakes Water Hub to study algal blooms, work with local agencies and researchers, and undertake pollution reduction projects. Additionally, the State granted over $700,000 and expedited permits to Cayuga County for its Owasco Flats Wetlands Restoration initiative, designed to prevent nutrients from flowing into Owasco Lake, thereby discouraging the growth of algal blooms.
In 2017, more than 100 beaches were closed for at least part of the summer due to HABs, and Skaneateles Lake, the source of unfiltered drinking water for several communities including the city of Syracuse, was threatened by algal blooms for the first time. While the finished drinking water was not impacted, this event highlights the need to better understand the causes and control of these HABs.