Blue-Green Algae can cause a lot of harm and grows particularly well during hot summers like the one we had in Upstate New York this year. Many lakes in the area have reported problems with blue-green algae this summer.
So far this year Sodus Bay has been spared blue-green algae toxic blooms.
We continue to have the benefit of weekly reports from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) team that indicate that bloom activity has been minimal this season. Given this, we thought it might be a good idea to sit down with Dr. Greg Boyer who supervises Sodus Bay Water Quality Monitoring Team from ESF, to get his perspective on what’s happening in the bay.
Interview with Dr. Greg Boyer
Have we had any blue-green algae blooms this year?
Our ESF team has continued weekly sampling and analysis of results since early June of this year. So far, the results have been generally very positive. While there have been a couple of small BGA blooms in late July, they were brief in duration and toxicity was undetectable or at minimal levels.
Did these algae blooms represent a health risk?
As always, blue green algae may pose a risk from compounds other than the measured toxins and therefore all blooms should be avoided. However, the small size and short duration of the blooms detected this season would not be considered a serious concern.
Many other lakes around the area are experiencing BGA bloom activity – – – why does our experience appear to be better?
This is difficult to answer. Over many years of sampling and testing it is fair to say that phosphorus levels in the bay have remained generally consistent and in sufficient levels necessary to support bloom activity.
What has declined over recent years is the level of chlorophyll, an indicator of algae presence. Also, toxicity has declined to virtually undetectable levels over the last two years of measurement. While these are very positive indicators, it doesn’t rule out the possibility of the recurrence of serious BGA bloom activity.
We are dealing with a multiplicity of variables involved in the creation of a bloom, almost all of which are uncontrollable, it is therefore extremely difficult to predict or prevent the occurrence.
Does this mean we are totally at the mercy of Mother Nature and we are unable to affect the conditions?
No, that would be the wrong conclusion. In fact, over the years there have been multiple projects under the direction of the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District to improve tributary stream banks that reduces the amount of sediment contribution.
Also, there are an increasing number of farm operations employing best practice techniques to reduce nutrient loading. In addition, the marinas and retail businesses around the bay are using bubblers as a means of maintaining water flow to lessen the bloom conditions.
We know these actions are helpful and are reducing the opportunity for bloom activity. We just can’t quantify in precise terms the direct effect of the actions.
Is there any study being done to improve our understanding of prediction and /or prevention?
Yes, in fact an hydrological model has been developed by Joe Atkinson at SUNY Buffalo that we are now experimenting with.
For example, we can “ask” the model questions like: “If we reduce the loading from our tributaries by 25%, what is the resulting level of Phosphorus in the water column; in the bottom sediment? ”
While these are theoretical questions, they help us understand the relationship of the variables in the bloom equation. We are currently in the process of applying and testing the model against actual conditions at the time of high bloom activity.
Fortunately, the many years of data collection and observation have given us the capability to develop the model. I believe it will become a very effective tool for the future.
What can we expect for the rest of this season?
Hopefully the positive indicators we are seeing will continue.
But, as I’ve already discussed, prediction is a risky business. Certainly we have had one of the hottest summers on record that would normally be a big factor in bloom formation. This may have been offset by wind conditions that keep the water moving.
The best thing for the watershed community to do is keep its attention on best practices for nutrient management. In the end, phosphorus levels are what the community can have a direct impact on.