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What is being done about blue-green HABs?

What is DEC doing?

DEC is engaged in many activities and programs:

  • Ongoing programs that reduce nutrients into NYS waters, one of the factors related to blue-green algae HABs.
  • Collaborative partnerships with NYS Department of Health (DOH) and NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) to respond to blue-green harmful algal bloom concerns around the state. DEC and DOH are also conducting research projects specifically to assess blue-green algae HABs risk and to better understand the conditions that trigger blue-green algae HABs.
  • Grant funding to municipalities, soil and water conservation districts, and non-profit organizations for projects that reduce polluted runoff into waterbodies.
  • Promote long lasting partnerships and fosters partnerships with watershed organizations and associations.
  • Resources for you to help too!

Ongoing Programs

DEC Bureau of Marine Resources (BMR) has an ongoing, established Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program to search for the presence of toxin producing marine algae (Alexandrium). These algae produce a toxin that may be present in high concentrations in shellfish. Eating shellfish that have consumed Alexandrium may pose a health threat for animals and humans. Check for temporary emergency shellfish closures.

DEC has completed many total maximum daily load (TMDLs) assessments for waterbodies in New York State. Nutrient TMDLs have been developed for several priority watersheds, including Long Island Sound, Lake Champlain, Onondaga Lake, and the New York City reservoir system. TMDLs account for all contributing sources of pollution or nutrients, seasonal changes, and include a margin of safety for unknown or unexpected sources to make sure that the waterbody meets water quality standards.

Stormwater runoff collects and transports pollutants, including nutrients to surface waters. New York has adopted a robust stormwater program that requires permits for certain stormwater discharges. The Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permit program targets different activities in urban areas that contribute pollutants to municipally owned storm sewer discharges. MS4 communities must develop programs that target these activities to control the pollutant loading from their systems. Under the Construction General Permit, regulated construction activities must implement controls to address the potential pollutant loading during and after construction. The NYS Stormwater Management Design Manual includes standards for enhanced phosphorus removal for projects in specific phosphorus limited watersheds. These programs help to decrease the amount of pollutants and nutrients that reach water bodies.

New York has a strong program to address water quality impacts from nutrient over-enrichment, including narrative standards, a statewide guidance value for phosphorus in lake waters, and several waterbody-specific numerical values. Nutrient criteria are currently being updated to better protect drinking water, recreational and aquatic life use in lakes, rivers and estuaries.

DEC staff measuring the depth of water clarity with a secchi disk. Photo: Pieter Bridge, DEC
DEC staff measuring the depth
of water clarity with a secchi disk.
Photo: Pieter Bridge, DEC

Water quality monitoring, assessment and planning programs assess the overall quality of waters, conduct research to better understand pollutants, sources and impacts on waters and their uses, and develop management strategies to enhance and protect these waters.

NYSDEC has "basin" programs for the Long Island Sound, New York City Watershed, Hudson River Estuary Program, Onondaga Lake, Chesapeake Bay, and Great Lakes. The "basin" programs have activities that focus on nutrient control to protect and conserve water quality.

The Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law was passed on July 15, 2010 and is being successfully implemented. It will improve water quality by reducing phosphorus runoff into waterbodies. This law helps to reduce the amount of nutrients delivered to waterbodies at a source and decreases the cost of removing phosphorus from water by wastewater treatment plants.

Research Projects

DEC, NYS Department of Health (DOH), and NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) are working together to identify and respond to blue-green algae HABs concerns. DEC and DOH are coordinating field personnel to investigate HAB reports and are creating a shared data set that will help staff better understand blue-green algae and the how and why HABs occurs. All three agencies are advising lake users (for example, swimmers and anglers) to avoid direct contact with blooms. These agencies are also working together to develop protocols for responding to blooms and for protecting the public.

Blue-green harmful algal blooms may look like green streaks on the water surface.
Blue-green algae blooms may look like
green streaks on the water surface.

NYS Department of Health was awarded a five year study funded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to document and assess HABs and their potentially associated illnesses and symptoms. DEC is assisting DOH by submitting for analysis water samples collected through two state ambient lake monitoring programs run by DEC: the Lake Classification and Inventory Survey (LCI) and the NY Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP). More information about this study can be found on the DOH website (link on right).

DEC and the New York State Federation of Lake Associations (NYSFOLA), in partnership with State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) and Upstate Freshwater Institute (UFI), have recently expanded the state volunteer lake monitoring program, CSLAP, to include blue-green algae HAB screening and blue-green algae HAB risk assessment. CSLAP volunteers from more than 100 lake communities throughout the state collect water samples and assess lake conditions and uses.

Funding Support

The DEC awards Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 604(b) funding to support water quality management planning projects that include: TMDL development, MS4 implementation practices, and green infrastructure.

Through the Environmental Protection Fund, DEC administers the Water Quality Improvement Project Program to fund projects that reduce polluted runoff, improve water quality and restore habitat in New York's waterbodies.

Partnership Activities

The Division of Water and the Finger Lakes- Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance (FL-LOWPA) work together to address local water quality needs that have a significant impact on the water resources of the Lake Ontario drainage basin. A number of the activities carried out by the 25-member counties reduce pollution from nutrients.

DEC and NYSFOLA work together to manage and analyze activities and data collected through the CSLAP monitoring program. NYSFOLA is a not-for-profit coalition of lake associations, lakefront residents, and other organizations dedicated to the preservation and restoration of New York lakes.

NYSDEC participates in county water quality coordinating committees (WQCC) to develop and implement County Water Quality Strategies to address nonpoint source pollution issues.

You can do something too!

The exact mechanisms and interactions that trigger blue-green algae HABs are complex and are still being studied by the scientific community. However, we do know that excess nutrients are an important factor.

Rain barrel reduces stormwater runoff into waterways and wastewater treatment plants.
Rain barrel reduces stormwater runoff to
waterways and wastewater treatment plants.

You can reduce the amount of nutrients going to waterbodies:

  • Make sure your septic system is working properly. Untreated septic waste is high in nutrients.
  • Maintain a buffer of natural vegetation around ponds and lakes on your property to filter nutrients from stormwater.
  • Consider using green infrastructure practices on your property to reduce nutrients and pollutants in stormwater runoff.
  • Reduce or do not use lawn fertilizers.
  • Make a Difference by incorporating green living into your daily life.