State Launches Public Online Map On Harmful Algal Blooms

The state Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health are launching a new online harmful algal bloom map and reporting system for the public.

Dubbed “NYHABS,” the reporting system features an interactive map that is updated daily with reports of HABs, as well as a new public reporting form.

“The state’s new notification system allows New Yorkers to be more informed than ever before about the location of HABs so they can better protect themselves, their families, and their pets,” said Basil Seggos, state DEC commissioner. “Working closely with our state and local partners, and with support from Governor Cuomo’s $65 million HABs Initiative, DEC is aggressively combatting HABs and working to reduce or eliminate these blooms from our waters.”

The NYHABS reporting system allows both the public and trained algal bloom samplers to send reports of HABs to DEC electronically via a simple, user- and mobile phone-friendly form. These reports, once evaluated by the DEC and Health Department, are posted to the NYHABS page.

When it comes to HABs, DEC encourages New Yorkers to “know it, avoid it, report it.” Harmful algal blooms vary in appearance from scattered green dots in the water, to long, linear green streaks, pea soup or spilled green paint, to blue-green or white coloration. People, pets and livestock should avoid contact with water that is discolored or has algal scums on the surface. If members of the public suspect a harmful algal bloom, report it through the NYHABs online reporting form available on the DEC’s website. Symptoms or health concerns related to HABs should be reported to the state Health Department at harmfulalgae@ health.ny.gov.

“New York has a long history of protecting our recreational waterways and drinking water from the threat of harmful algal blooms,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner. “Unfortunately, warmer weather makes it necessary to plan for blooms that are increasing in frequency and location. This new notification and reporting system raises public awareness of the threat that HABs pose and enhances our robust monitoring and testing protocol.”

Most algae blooms are harmless. However, exposure to toxins and other substances from certain harmful algal blooms can make people and animals sick. The increasing frequency and duration of harmful algal blooms also threatens water quality and recreational use of waterbodies essential to ecosystem health and statewide tourism. HABs have been detected in nearly 400 water bodies since 2012. To address harmful algal blooms, the DEC works with the Health Department, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and other state and local partners.

Hundreds of waterbodies are monitored annually by the DEC, Health Department, state parks, academic institutions and volunteer monitoring partnerships. Additional public health protections are provided by the state Health Department oversight of regulated beaches and public water systems.

At Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s direction, the DEC and the state Health Department are leading a multi-agency, statewide $65 million initiative to combat harmful algal blooms and protect drinking water quality and the economy. In 2018, four summits brought together national, state, and local experts to discuss how to reduce the frequency of these blooms. The summits drove the creation of Action Plans for 12 priority lakes that will undergo intensive evaluation and advanced technology pilots that can be applied to waterbodies across the state.

While the exact cause of harmful algal blooms is not fully understood, blooms usually occur in waters high in phosphorus and/or nitrogen. New York state has programs and activities to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen from entering the water from surrounding lands, including stormwater permitting programs, funding for water quality improvement projects, and a nutrient law that restricts the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizer. The state’s harmful algal blooms program works with partners to identify, track and report algal blooms throughout the state and communicate health risks to the public. This spring and summer, the DEC will again include a link to the HAB notifications page on MakingWaves. To sign up for MakingWaves, visit the DEC’s website and enter an email address in the blue DEC Delivers box.