Chautauqua Lake aerial mapChautauqua Lake Sunset view

President Barack Obama recently signed into law the bipartisan Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act, aimed to help prevent the spread of harmful algal blooms in New York state waterways.

The legislation reauthorizes and expands an Inter-Agency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia to include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requiring the task force to establish a national harmful algal bloom and hypoxia program and develop and publish a national harmful algal blooms and hypoxia action strategy.

The task force would also assess inter-agency work and review distribution of federal grants and funding to address research priorities, as well as promote the development of new technologies for predicting, monitoring and mitigating harmful algal blooms and hypoxia conditions.

According to John Jablonski, executive director of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, harmful algal blooms are a growing problem for Chautauqua Lake.

"All indications are that climate change is a factor in worsening our problems on Chautauqua Lake and in the Midwest," Jablonski said. "Cyanobacteria blooms, commonly known as blue-green algae blooms, have become more of a threat to the health, recreational appeal and economic value of Chautauqua Lake than its plant growth. I am hopeful that providing resources to provide more focus on this problem will result in a re-ordering of federal fiscal priorities to commit resources to address the nutrient pollution and climate change that fuel these problems."

Jablonski added that a revitalized federal clean water program to provide grants for upgrading and expanding public sewer systems, as well as a federal Farm Bill that does not subsidize and promote corn ethanol production and factory animal agriculture, will be necessary to further limit the nutrient loading in lakes and waterways.

"I commend our federal representatives in Congress for enacting this effort and I encourage them to get our local input on how to build programs for action to address the nutrient loading fueling these blooms," Jablonski said.

Doug Conroe, president of the Chautauqua Lake Association, agreed that the issue is far-reaching.

"Fortunately so far this year, Chautauqua Lake has not yet reached a serious condition in general, although our water sampling program did evidence a blue-green algae presence in one very small site," Conroe said, noting the location was placed on the state's bloom notices website. "That location has been re-sampled and the condition has dissipated, which is not unusual. Blooms can be very mobile and can appear and disappear quickly."

The Chautauqua Lake Association monitors a handful of locations weekly in order to keep up to date on lake conditions.

Anyone who observes harmful algal blooms should call the Chautauqua Lake Association office at 763-8602 to report the exact location of the perceived bloom.

"Not all sites that appear to be harmful algal blooms are actually such. The simplest rule of thumb for lake users is not to swim in areas that look bad," Conroe said. "We know enough already to understand that the fix for Chautauqua Lake is going to require a comprehensive action plan involving many actions, several of which are costly. The legislation can thus bring another tool to the workshop which can only help."

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, a member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, co-sponsored and pushed for a vote on this measure as part of her broad effort to protect New York's water bodies from toxic contamination and invasive species.

Harmful algal blooms are a problem across New York, and have necessitated closure of beaches and lakes, as well as caused damage to fish habitats off the coast. The occurrence of blue-green algae is monitored by New York state, and in 2013, the Department of Environmental Conservation issued blue-green algae notices for 76 lakes across the state

Harmful algal blooms are the rapid overproduction of algae, which produce toxins that are detrimental to plants and animals. Blooms can kill fish and other aquatic life by decreasing sunlight available to the water and by depleting the available oxygen in the water, causing hypoxia. On the coast, they are often referred to as brown or red tides. The existence of blue-green algae is a particular problem in New York's freshwater lakes. Blue-green algae are a form of algal bloom that has an unpleasant appearance and odor, and will cause illness in humans and animals that come into contact with it.