State Invests More Than $2 Million to Safeguard Owasco Lake Drinking Water Quality Ahead of 2017 Algal Bloom Season
Governor Directs New York State Agencies to Investigate and Address Harmful Algal Blooms
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced formal approval of advanced treatment technologies to address water quality concerns in the city of Auburn and town of Owasco. Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo announced the commitment of more than $2 million to evaluate treatment alternatives and upgrade their drinking water systems in the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco.
This year’s budget secures this funding and today, the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation are formally approving two carbon treatment demonstration projects that will be operational in advance of algal bloom season. The Town of Owasco will be implementing an $800,000 granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment system, and The City of Auburn will be implementing a $600,000 powdered activated carbon (PAC) treatment system. Both of these technologies absorb the harmful algal toxin, removing it from the water. The Governor announced the approved solutions at Auburn’s Emerson Park.
"With the approval of these state-of-the-art treatment technologies, New York is taking decisive action to ensure access to clean drinking water and protect public health in the Auburn and Owasco communities," Governor Cuomo said. "Across the state, we are investing in critical upgrades to outdated water infrastructure and addressing contamination wherever it occurs to protect water supplies for current and future generations."
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Protecting the environment is DEC’s top priority. Our aggressive efforts are ensuring these communities have access to clean drinking water, as we investigate the cause, nature, and extent of contamination at Owasco Lake and identify solutions to address the challenge presented by harmful algal blooms."
Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "By moving quickly to stay a step ahead of an emerging threat, Governor Cuomo is ensuring this community will have the quality drinking water it deserves. These aggressive actions for the Owasco Lake community are further examples of the state prioritizing clean drinking water as a means to protect the public’s health.”
The State has worked with the Owasco Lake communities for many years to safeguard the health of the lake. Over time, Owasco Lake has experienced increasingly dense blooms of blue green algae or cyanobacteria, also known as harmful algal blooms. These blooms can produce nerve, liver, and skin toxins that can harm swimmers, pets, and those who drink the water. In addition, these blooms can trigger ecological changes and are unsightly, affecting water quality, recreation, aesthetics, and property values. The Governor has directed New York State agencies, including
"We are investing in critical upgrades to outdated water infrastructure and addressing contamination wherever it occurs to protect water supplies for current and future generations."
In Owasco Lake, blooms have concentrated along shorelines throughout the lake, resulting in periodic closures of Emerson Park beach. In recent years, low levels of the toxins have been detected in raw water at the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco drinking water treatment facilities. Although below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory levels, 2016 was the first year with trace amounts of microcystin detected in the finished drinking water.
Similar blooms in other lakes are usually the result of too much phosphorus in the water, and reductions in nutrient levels can help to reduce these problems. However, in Owasco Lake, phosphorus and chlorophyll levels in the open water are low, and while the trigger for the blooms in Owasco Lake and some of the other Finger Lakes is not well understood, DEC is conducting additional studies and instituting further nutrient control measures.
City of Auburn Mayor Michael Quill said, “Governor Cuomo is committed to safeguarding water quality for all New Yorkers, from efforts here in Auburn/Owasco to major investments like the $2.5 Clean Water Infrastructure Act. The technological upgrades and enhancements to New York’s water infrastructure will enable economic growth, environmental protection, and safeguard the health of our communities.”
Town of Owasco Supervisor Ed Wagner said, "Governor Cuomo recognizes that clean drinking water is crucial to public health and the environment and that investing in our water infrastructure will protect this vital resource for all New Yorkers. The $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 will fund vital upgrades to water systems across the state while developing a national model for protecting drinking water. Here in Auburn/Owasco, the Governor is working to address Owasco Lake’s challenges with algal blooms and ensure our community has access to clean drinking water.”
Cayuga County Legislature Chair Keith Batman said, “Governor Cuomo’s ongoing commitment and continued investments to safeguard the health of Owasco Lake and to ensure our communities have clean water to drink are critical to strengthening our local economies. Today’s announcement will help preserve and protect our water supplies and the overall health of Owasco Lake, for the benefit of everyone in the watershed.”
New York State has a robust harmful algal blooms surveillance and notification program. Collaboration among DEC, DOH, Cayuga County Department of Health, the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program, and engaged local stakeholders such as the Owasco Lake Watershed Association were effective documenting blooms. These efforts will continue and provide new insights and better understanding of blooms.
Owasco Lake Watershed Quality Actions by State Agencies
Department of Environmental Conservation
- $600,000 to Study and Implement Safeguards to Owasco Lake Watershed, which includes $100,000 for enhanced water quality studies and more than $400,000 for pollution mitigation measures.
- Creation of the Finger Lakes Water Hub, which includes four new DEC water resources staff (two Research Scientists, a Watershed Coordinator, and Supervising Scientist) located in Region 7 and focused on water quality in Finger Lakes.
- New DEC Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Permit Renewal to Promote Water Quality Protections on New York Farms
- $2.5 Billion Investment in Clean Water Infrastructure and Water Quality Protection, with $210 million allocated for Source Water Protection Actions including $50 million for compliance with the new DEC CAFO permit.
- $200,000 Dutch Hollow Brook Watershed BMP Implementation project.
- Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration and Riparian Buffers Initiative provides Cayuga County a $712,500 Environmental Facilities Corporation Green Innovation Grant for the construction and restoration of wetlands, floodplains and riparian buffers in Moravia.
- Village of Groton Wastewater Treatment Facility phosphorus reduction project and permit modification. In 2010 the Village received a $2,627,098 Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) grant from DEC to upgrade their facility to comply with SPDES permit limits and reduce phosphorus to Owasco Inlet and Owasco Lake, completed in 2011.
Department of Health
- Advised water system operators on treatment changes in 2016 and will continue to perform analysis again this year to support the Cayuga County and local water systems.
- Provided daily testing at the state’s Wadsworth Center Laboratories for mirocystin in September 2016.
- Reviewed and approved engineering plans for proposed treatment options.
Department of State
- $35,000 to Cayuga County from Local Waterfront Revitalization Grant Program to develop a Nine Element Plan for the entire Owasco Lake watershed. This watershed based plan will identify and quantify lake sources of pollutants, determine the water quality targets, and the pollutant reductions needed to meet these goals. County is working with local farms, businesses, and residents to identify the actions needed to achieve the reductions needed to improve water quality in Owasco Lake. Process ensures contributing causes and sources of pollution are identified, key stakeholders are involved in the planning process, and restoration and protection strategies are identified that will address water quality concerns.
Agriculture & Markets
- Agricultural Environmental Management Program includes 90 farms that worked with the Cayuga County Conservation District through at least Tier 2 of the program.
- $7,123,958 investment including farm and County Conservation District Contribution (from 1994-2015) including 200 Best Management Practice Systems installed or under construction.
- NYS Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control Grant Program has invested $4,190,799 in the Owasco Lake Watershed from 1994-2015.
In addition, state agencies are working with the Cayuga County Environmental Health Division to ensure enforcement of watershed regulations.