From the SLA: SLA is the First Responder
Starting in 2007, the SLA’s predecessor organization was the first responder to when milfoil was discovered in the lake. Pulling together expertise and skill and funding from a community that loved the lake a massive program to get milfoil growth under control was started. Had that massive program not been initiated and continued the milfoil growth that would have happen would have been a significant contributor to the lake’s nutrient level and therefore an even greater potential for algae blooms.
In 2012, the SLA was the first responder when the SLA’s Invasive Species Monitoring Steward program was started to reduce the threat of additional and new plant and animal invasives being introduced into Skaneateles Lake by watercraft and trailer transport from other bodies of water. Over the past five years this program has expanded to include more launch sites around the lake, more days of coverage and, this year, a longer season of coverage.
Once again, in the past week, the SLA has been the first responder to what has been the most “in your face” threat to Skaneateles Lake, a massive, widespread Harmful Algal Bloom that has put our unfiltered water supply at risk and put a huge damper on all the lake recreation activities during what would have been very pleasant Fall lake season.
Here is what happened.
Early in the week of Sept. 12, an SLA member and lakefront property owner noted a suspicious bloom on his lakefront on Widewaters about 6 miles south on the East side of the lake. He promptly notified the SLA by email and a team of SLA Board members inspected the site that day. The SLA board member team noted the event did not appear very suspicious for a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) as there was only a visible suspension of green particles in the water. While this type of suspension had been noticed before in recent years, it had been short-lived. A decision was made by the SLA Board Team (Dr. Bob Werner and Buzz Roberts) to take samples just to be sure. They had the equipment and expertise from participating in the statewide CSLAP lake monitoring program.
The sample was sent by Dr. Werner to Dr. Greg Boyer’s Lab at ESF as directed by DEC. Dr. Boyer is a well-known expert on HABs and runs one of the few labs capable of such analysis in the state. On Friday, September 15th, the results revealed a positive indication of a HAB with elevated levels of blue-green algae (60 ug BGA-chl/liter), which is well above the DEC alert level of 10-20 ug BGA chl/liter. This was immediately reported to SLA Board member, Dr. Bob Werner.
Immediately after receiving the report, representatives from the SLA met with Rich Abbott at the City Water Dept. in Skaneateles and with the Skaneateles. Town Supervisor, Jim Lanning and Town Clerk, Janet Aaron. The County Health Department was notified along with the local media and messages put on the Town and SLA websites to warn people not to swim or drink the lake water directly. Syracuse City residents and Skaneateles village residents that obtained their water through the City intakes were told it was OK to drink their tap water, as posted on Syracuse.com, that same day.
Additional samples were taken at the village pier and steps to the village swim area on Saturday, Sept. 16 by the NY Federation of Lake Associations as directed by the DEC and were hand delivered to SUNY-ESF for testing. These samples also showed elevated levels of blue-green algae (400-600 ug BGA-chl/liter) and elevated levels of the liver toxin microcystins (120-170 ug/L). These numbers were reported in Sunday’s Syracuse.com. These microcystin levels were considerably higher than the original more dilute samples taken by the SLA team earlier in the week. Algal neurotoxins, occasionally found in other blooms in New York State, were not present in any of the Skaneateles Lake samples. Combined, the results indicated the presence of a toxic blue-green algae bloom (HAB) in Skaneateles Lake, potentially being accumulated along the shore by wind and wave action.
On Sunday, Sept. 17, visible inspection of the lake showed resolution of the confluent areas of green scum along the shoreline, at least by this observer, along the west and east shorelines south to about 7 miles. However, heavy green particle suspension was present all over and in mid- lake about 5-6 miles down even in deeper offshore waters. There were visible streaks of greenish particles but not the actual layered scum on the surface that was visible just the day before. This had broken apart.
On Sept. 18, SLA President, Dr. Paul Torrisi, spoke with Dr. Boyer about the impacts of the Bloom and used the information to complete the SLA Website entry.
Dr. Boyer noted that a toxic HAB event was confirmed for Skaneateles Lake. The algal species involved was 99 percent Microcystis aeruginosa and measured hepatotoxin (liver toxin) concentrations (microcystin) exceeded the levels for drinking water and recreational contact (swimming).
He also noted that drinking water obtained from the City intakes via the tap was considered to be safe. The allowable levels in tap water for the liver toxins are <0.3 for children and <1.6 for adults (10-day average), The City has a number of options available, including using a deep-water intake, mixing the water with Lake Ontario water, flocculation of the cells, or the use of activated carbon for removal of the toxins from the water.
But, he also noted that in contrast, residents who obtain their water directly from the lake should be using bottled water during the bloom event. Many local residents’ water intakes are located near shore, in shallow water (10 -20 feet) and do not have the technology to remove the cells and toxins from the water. Routinely, blooms mix at least to depths of 20 feet.
Of particular note, Dr. Boyer reported that residential UV light systems may kill the cells but not necessarily remove the toxins from the water. Residential activated carbon systems are also generally insufficient to remove the toxins unless the system is expensive (thousands of dollars) and properly maintained. Point-of-use filters commonly found on sink taps are insufficient at removing the toxins. Filtration and reverse osmosis do not remove the toxins once they have been released from the cell but may be beneficial in keeping the cells (about 7 microns in size) themselves out of the residential system.
These toxins are not destroyed by heat (e.g., boiling water does not work) and use of chlorine is often complicated by the presence of other organic material in the water from the bloom. These microcystin toxins do linger in the lake water even after the visible bloom is gone but become more dilute and dissipate with time. They do not remain forever.
Finally, Dr. Boyer added that special care needs to be taken with pets. Levels above 100 ug/L in bloom events are in the “Dead Dog” range, according to Greg, where pets can die due to the toxins accumulating in the fur and the dog’s normal tendency to lick its fur to clean itself. Pet owners should wash off their pets with a garden hose if the animal has been swimming in green water. For more information regarding pets see seagrant.sunysb.edu/btide/pdfs/HABsFactSheet-0814.pdf.
Dr. Boyer noted that residents should avoid contact with all blooms and should not be swimming in any water where a bloom is present. The bloom will eventually go away and the water should be free of suspended green particles (usually weeks, not days) before resuming swimming or drinking the water.
A small fraction of the population (<1%) may also be allergic to contact with the bloom’s cells themselves (separate from the toxins) with the usually response being a skin rash. Dr. Boyer noted that these individuals may be impacted by the use of the water for showering, washing of hands, dishes, or clothes using raw lake water during an active bloom event. Also, he does not recommend people who might be immunosuppressed from age, medication and/or disease use raw lake water for any of these activities during a time when a bloom might be present.
On September 18th, Dr. Torrisi also spoke with Lisa Letteney, Onondaga County Department of Health, Director of Environmental Health. She noted that the City is actively monitoring the water at the intakes on Skaneateles Lake which would include the City and Skaneateles Village water as the village trunk comes off the main after it exits the lake. She said if anything changes the County/City will alert the public.
She agreed to send out another Alert to keep the public informed and advice people not only on municipal water but also those who live on the lakeshore and draw directly from the lake.
Dr. Torrisi discussed with Ms. Letteney the possibility of setting up a Hotline # so in the future they could be immediately notified of a suspicious algal bloom and it could be immediately tested by the County/City authorities. Such a hotline would help ensure that HABs were not missed. He noted that in the current situation all were fortunate to have the SLA act proactively and discover the problem before the nasty green bloom appeared!
Dr. Torrisi and Ms. Letteney agreed that it’s important for the County Health Dept. to stay in touch and advice accordingly since there seems to be much misinformation being dissipated along with misunderstanding of the issues involved with HABs. Ms. Letteney agreed that subsequent Informational Alerts from the County Health Dept. could be expected.
Please join the Lake’s First Responders and become an annual member of the Skaneateles Lake Association. Go to SkaneatelesLake.org or call 315-685-9106