Action Plans for Twelve Priority Waterbodies Identify Contributing Factors and Provide Strategies to Reduce Pollution Sources
Lessons Learned from Regional HABs Summits Include Innovative Solutions That Can Be Replicated in Waterbodies Across the State
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the release of 12 tailored action plans to address the causes of harmful algal blooms in priority waterbodies across upstate New York. The action plans outline specific projects and programs to be implemented at priority lakes and also identify actions that can be taken at waterbodies statewide to reduce the threat of HABs. These plans are a central component of the Governor's $65 million, four-point initiative unveiled in the 2018 State of the State to aggressively combat HABs and protect drinking water quality and the upstate economy.
"Protecting New York's natural resources is a top priority of this administration and we have moved swiftly to ensure that the harmful algal blooms plaguing our waterbodies are addressed quickly and effectively," Governor Cuomo said. "These action plans are an important step forward in protecting our environment and we will continue to do all that we can to eradicate these blooms once and for all."
The increasing frequency and duration of harmful algal blooms threatens drinking water quality and the recreational use of waterbodies that are essential to upstate tourism and ecosystem health. HABs, which are formed by high concentrations of blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, can produce dangerous toxins that can harm people and animals, close economically important beaches and fisheries, and threaten drinking water supplies.
During its initial phase, the Governor directed the state's Water Quality Rapid Response Team, co-chaired by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health, to identify twelve priority lakes that represent a range of locations, conditions, and vulnerability to HABs. The twelve priority 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.
Four regional HABs summits were convened in February and March to bring together nation-leading experts with steering committees of local stakeholders to identify factors fueling HABs and to develop tailored strategies to reduce the frequency of these blooms.
The action plans derived from these summits describe the current conditions of the twelve waterbodies, summarize research conducted and data produced, identify potential causal factors contributing to algal blooms, and provide specific recommendations to minimize the frequency, intensity, and duration of HABs to protect public health and the environment.
The action plans will drive implementation of projects and programs on these waterbodies that are tailored to address the key factors likely fueling the blooms. Priority actions identified in the plans range from wastewater treatment upgrades, sewer expansions, and septic system upgrades and replacements, to streambank erosion prevention, stormwater best management practices, agricultural nutrient reduction measures, and open space buffer preservation projects.
The action plans are designed to be "living documents," with recommendations regularly assessed during the implementation phase. Feedback from the public is essential and interested stakeholders can provide suggestions and comments here.
The state is providing nearly $60 million in grant funding to support implementation projects for the priority lakes, as well as other waterbodies impacted by HABs. More detailed information on applying for funding can be found here.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "New York's HABs initiative is the most comprehensive effort of its kind in the nation and these Action Plans are the gold standard for reducing these potentially dangerous blooms. With our state agency partners, these plans to reduce HABs complement Governor Cuomo's continued efforts to protect water quality across the state. New York State is committed to identifying the underlying causes of HABs and implementing new and innovative strategies to treat and prevent future occurrences to safeguard our clean water for future generations."
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "I was pleased to take part in the State's HABs Summits and our team was greatly encouraged by the level of participation from all the stakeholders and partners involved in this effort to combat algal blooms and protect our natural resources. Together, we have developed comprehensive actions plans that will not only build on our current work to prevent water pollution, improve nutrient management, and reduce erosion but will also guide our future goals for a sustainable environment and cleaner waterbodies."
DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Governor Cuomo has mounted a robust response to protect New York State's waters against harmful algal blooms. The targeted regional action plans the Governor directed state and local partners to produce this spring will prepare communities ahead of the seasonal threat that harmful algal blooms pose to public health. I want to thank all of the water quality experts who contributed to this effort."
Senator Tom O'Mara, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "New York State must aggressively move forward on this environmental crisis, and we appreciate the seriousness it is being given by Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation. A stronger understanding of the scope of algal blooms and the risks they pose to local communities and local environments will make us better prepared to effectively eliminate this threat to our lakes and minimize future damage."
Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee said, "Upstate New York's waterbodies serve not only as critical sources of drinking water, but as recreation and tourism destinations that help enhance the quality of life and support local economies. I applaud the Governor for using these Action Plans to protect our majestic waters and the communities that depend on them."
Stuart F. Gruskin, Chief Conservation and External Affairs Officer for The Nature Conservancy in New York said, "The Nature Conservancy applauds Governor Cuomo and the Departments of Environmental Conservation, Agriculture and Markets, and Health for working to address the serious threat harmful algal blooms pose to our clean water and public health. New Yorkers depend on our lakes and other waters for drinking, fishing, swimming, and other recreation. With the release of these action plans, the state is poised to begin to address this serious threat to our communities and the clean water we depend on.
Timothy Davis, Ph.D., Bowling Green State University said, "The development of the action plans for the 12 priority lakes is a great first step towards creating successful mitigation plans to reduce the size, duration and toxicity of harmful algal blooms in these systems. I was able to attend three of the four Summits and was pleasantly surprised to see how passionate people are about this topic. Solving this critical water quality problem will take a coordinated effort by academic experts, state agencies, citizen scientists as well as leadership by local and state officials. Governor Cuomo has shown that leadership through this initiative."
Governor Cuomo's Harmful Algal Blooms program builds on New York's $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act investments in clean water infrastructure and water quality protection. The Harmful Algal Blooms initiative is supported with funds from both the Clean Water Infrastructure Act and the $300 million Environmental Protection Fund. Through the Governor's leadership, New York has developed the most comprehensive HABs outreach and monitoring programs in the country, led by DEC sampling of ambient waters across the state and DOH sampling at regulated beaches and public water systems.
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