We need your help this summer protecting Cayuga Lake from Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

What are Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)? 

“Most algae are harmless and are an important part of the food web. Certain types of algae can grow quickly and form blooms, which can cover all or portions of a lake. Even large blooms are not necessarily harmful. However some species of algae can produce toxins that can be harmful to people and animals. Blooms of algal species that can produce toxins are referred to as harmful algal blooms (HABs). HABs usually occur in nutrient-rich waters, particularly during hot, calm weather.” – From NYS DEC’s Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) web page. 

Not all algal blooms are toxic, but when they appear, their toxicity must be tested before water can be used safely.

Harmful Algal Bloom Cayuga Lake 2017To be cautious, suspicious algal blooms are classified as HABs until testing is complete.

Why are HABs a problem for our lake?

First and foremost, Cayuga Lake is a drinking water source for over 100,000 people. This basic use must be protected from these toxins and other pollutants. 

Other water uses need protection

Our clean lake water is used for recreation – swimming, boating – and by many businesses and farmers, including wineries, breweries, cheese-makers, and for other industrial and commercial uses. 

Clean water is money in the bank! Clean water is necessary for sustainable community growth into the future. Clean water is essential to daily life around Cayuga Lake. We must protect it for our human uses, as well as for plants, birds, fish, aquatic organisms and other animals.

How you can help

Sign up and train with us in June to be a HABs Harrier! Click for the flyer: HABs Harrier Recruitment Flyer 2018

  • What does being a HABs Harrier include?
    • Attend a two-hour HABs identification and sampling workshop in June.
    • Check for HABs along your assigned length of shoreline once a week, mid-July through September.
    • If there is a bloom, collect HABs samples and transport them to the Community Science Lab (Brown Road near the TC Airport, Ithaca) for further analysis.
    • Be available to respond to HABs sightings reported by members of the public.
  • Can’t volunteer as a Harrier but want to help? 
    • If you see a HAB, avoid it and report it. Keep kids and pets away!
    • What it looks like: NYS DEC HABs photo gallery      
    • Would you give permission for volunteers to check for HABs and collect samples along your lake front property? For more information, see contacts below.  
  • Reporting a Harmful Algal Bloom on Cayuga Lake: Quickly notify us at habs@cayugalake.org  - We need pictures of the bloom, location of bloom (GPS coordinates are highly preferable but approximate address and nearby landmarks will also do), and date and time when pictures were taken. A trained HABs Harrier will respond, and take a sample for analysis if needed. We'll let you know what we find out.

To learn more about volunteering or providing access, contact:

Cayuga Lake Watershed Network programs@cayugalake.org 607-319-0475

Community Science Institute info@communityscience.org 607-257-6606

HABs on Cayuga Lake in 2017

At this link, go to minute 33 to see and hear a description of Cayuga Lake and its HABs problems in 2017, presented by Scott Kishbaugh (DEC) at the HABs Summit in Syracuse on March 6: Link to HABs Summit Public Session for central Finger Lakes

Causes of HABs

"HABs are likely triggered by a combination of water and environmental conditions that may include: excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), lots of sunlight, low-water or low-flow conditions, calm water, and warm temperatures. Depending on the weather and the characteristics of the lake, HABs may be short-lived (appearing and disappearing in hours) or long-lived (persisting for several weeks or more)." 

This brief statement from NYS DEC's Harmful Algal Blooms FAQ sheet is the tip of the iceberg of ongoing research to find out more about causes, and to determine the events that trigger a HABs bloom on specific waterbodies. Learn more about causes in Dr Davis' presentation - the link follows.

Brief history of HABs in the USA & globally

Our favorite HABs presentation to date was delivered by Dr. Timothy Davis at the March 6, 2018 HABs Summit, "Understanding the causes and consequences of cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms" - minutes 37-60: Link to HABs Summit Public Session for central Finger Lakes. 

Davis focuses on Lake Erie - where there have been problematic HABs since the late 1800s. He traces the history of HABs as a problem in the USA and provides examples world-wide (minute 51:50). Every continent except Antarctica has them. HABs are on the rise. Their root cause is nutrient pollution (too much nutrients), but the blooms are worsened by invasive species and climate change (global warming), and other causes. Go to minute 57:10 for a three-minute history of how HABs were diagnosed and vanquished in Lake Erie from the 1960s-1990s, but have since returned because of a drop in monitoring and effective treatments. 

Getting started on solutions

Governor Cuomo Announces Regional Harmful Algal Bloom Summits  February 14, 2018

Public session of the HABs Summit for Cayuga, Owasco, & Skaneateles Lake, March 6 2018 at the SUNY ESF campus, Syracuse NY: Link to HABs Summit Public Session for central Finger Lakes.

The 2018 HABs Action Plan for Cayuga Lake will be released for public comment and rapid implementation in May 2018. Watch for a link to it here.

The 2018 Cayuga Lake HABs Harriers volunteer corps is led by a partnership between Discover Cayuga Lake, Community Science Institute, & Cayuga Lake Watershed Network: Providing integrated water project services.

Discover Cayuga (aka Cayuga Lake Floating Classroom): DC (FC) maintains a commercial vessel and educators, and provides classroom, lake and streamside education programs for students, youth internships and public education programs, online at www.discovercayugalake.org 

Community Science Institute: CSI trains volunteers to carry out water quality sampling, provides certified water lab services, shares data at www.communityscience.org and presents results via community forums with partners.

Cayuga Lake Watershed Network: CLWN maintains communications and networking between project partners and the watershed public, including public agencies, concerned residents, and municipalities, online at www.cayugalake.org


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