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Tackling Toxic Algae

Winter 2016

Recent New York Times "Science Times" articles (July 19, 2016) highlighted an increasing national and global problem of
toxic algal blooms. But what can be done? A lot.

The main culprits are phosphorus in fresh water, and nitrogen in salt water. These nutrients fertilize our waters causing massive
algae growths with resulting impacts like low dissolved oxygen, fish and shellfish kills, toxics from "harmful" algae, odors,
beach closures and a cascade of potentially unhealthful impacts on
drinking water.

Water resource recovery facilities (WRRF), septic systems, polluted urban runoff, lawn fertilizers, eroded sediment and animal
feeding operations are just some of the nutrient sources, along with atmospheric nitrogen deposition from coal-fired boilers.

Here in New York, we have worked with partners to track, report and provide warnings on toxic algal blooms (visit the DEC Harmful Algal Blooms Notifications webpage). Heightened treatment systems have been placed on WRRFs discharging to troubled waters. We have developed state-of-the-art nutrient management programs for larger animal feeding operations, and a grant-supported voluntary program for other farms.

Other efforts benefitting water quality include: legislation enacted to reduce phosphorus in lawn fertilizer and dish-washing
machine soaps; programs and initiatives to regulate and reduce combined sewer overflows and pollutants in urban runoff; install
green infrastructure; and eliminate coal use in power plants.

Addressing nutrient pollution is not easy. Phosphorus and nitrogen compounds are essential elements of life, existing everywhere over the landscape. Compounding the difficulty, the quality of fresh water can be reduced by phosphorus levels exceeding only 20 parts per billion.

We do succeed. New York and Connecticut embarked on a successful program to reduced nitrogen discharged to Long Island Sound by 58 percent, with New York's investment of about $2 billion. The open Sound's nitrogen-induced "dead zone" is shrinking and the oxygen deficit severity has lessened dramatically. In the New York City Water Supply watershed, comprehensive management reversed the severe phosphorus impairment of the Cannonsville Reservoir.

In 2015, New York established a new three year, $400 million clean water infrastructure initiative, and this past year increased
its environmental protection fund from $177 million to $300 million. Our water infrastructure loan fund is the largest and most
innovative in the Nation. Aggressive location-specific initiatives and infrastructure projects, like those on Long Island's south shore, are underway. New York takes its responsibilities to enforce the Clean Water Act seriously.

What is missing is a sustained federal financial investment. A recent Congressional Budget Office Report stated only four percent of clean water infrastructure funding comes from the federal government. Perhaps it is time to put the "federal" back in the Federal Clean Water Act and the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act - to truly take on the menace of toxic algal blooms and much more.


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