Harmful Algal Blooms Discovered On Chautauqua Lake

Blue-green algae, which can form harmful algal blooms, is pictured along the Chautauqua Lake shores in Fluvanna in September 2014. P-J file photos by Jimmy McCarthy

While they haven’t wreaked havoc on summer recreating so far, harmful algal blooms have been spotted on Chautauqua Lake.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed two cases of harmful algal blooms on Chautauqua Lake within the past two weeks. Through water sample testing, the first bloom was confirmed in late June while the second bloom was confirmed just last week.

The latest harmful algal bloom was located in the Long Point State Park area, according to Doug Conroe, executive director for the Chautauqua Lake Association. The bloom was deemed small and localized.

Conroe said the CLA and DEC are working together to test and document harmful blooms. The process begins with citizens phoning in concerns to the DEC. From there, the DEC contacts the CLA to go out and investigate.

Harmful algal blooms take form on the lake anywhere from early summer to September. Predicting harmful blooms on the lake in any given year is no simple task given the number of factors involved.

Two cases of harmful algal blooms have been discovered on Chautauqua Lake within the past two weeks, the State Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed.

“Blooms are dependent upon sunshine, water temperature, lake flow activity and the amount of nutrients in the lake,” Conroe said. “All those things come together and reach a magic point where blooms occur.”

This year’s lake conditions are different than the previous year, according to Conroe. Last summer was sunny and hot. The lake water level was also low.

So far this year, the lake level is higher due in part to the number of rainy days.

“This year we have changing weather conditions and we have a higher lake level and the heat of the sun has not been relevant as much as last year,” Conroe said. “This year will probably exhibit some different behavior.”

The frequent rains dating back to the spring are sparking some concern for the Chautauqua County Environmental Health Department and Jessica Wuerstle, county public health sanitarian.

“We’re a little more concerned about algal blooms because that rain did bring a lot of nutrients down into the lake,” she said. “All we need is warm water temperatures and sunny days and that will trigger these algal blooms.”

County health officials are reminding residents and visitors to take precautions when swimming, boating and recreating on the water. Algal blooms can present a public risk since they can release toxins that may be harmful to people and pets. Individuals can be exposed to toxins through contact while swimming.

“There are hazards and toxins in these blooms. If consumed or exposed, they can cause rashes, diarrhea or in extreme cases liver damage,” said Mark Stow, county environmental health director. “We have no documented cases of human problems around the lake at this point.”

The county Environmental Health Department monitors permitted beaches throughout Chautauqua County for harmful algal blooms or bacteria E. coli. Wuerstle said they had to close beaches around Chautauqua Lake twice last year due to algal blooms. All beaches are open at this time.

“We actually didn’t do too bad with algal blooms last year near beaches,” she said. “It was only the Lakewood beach that saw any kind of blooms that warranted closing.”

If people or pets are exposed to a harmful algal bloom, county health officials recommend rinsing the affected area with clean water as soon as possible. Those who experience symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, skin irritation or breathing difficulties should seek medical attention.

Stow said dog owners should be careful when their pets enter the water. Pets with long hair are more likely to have toxins stick to their fur. When they clean their fur, they end up ingesting the toxins, which Stow said could be life threatening.

“Pets are certainly at risk. Pet owners should be vigilant,” Stow said. “The biggest thing is to avoid areas where algal blooms accumulate. That’s where the danger lies.”