Toxic Algae Blooms in Owasco Lake Sparks Concerns About Safe Drinking Water

By Noelle Nichols ‘18

High levels of toxins from algae blooms have been reported lakewide in Owasco Lake on Sept. 24, and people in the region are concerned about the future of their safe drinking water.

The Cayuga County Health Department recently published information regarding a previously undetected cyanotoxin, homo-anatoxin, in Owasco Lake which as a result has led to traces of this toxin in the city of Auburn’s drinking water.

The homo-anatoxin is now in the water near the Indian Cove and the Buck Point area of Owasco Lake due to the lake’s most recent harmful algae bloom, HAB, according to a Cayuga County Health Department press release.

Homo-anatoxin is just one cyanotoxin produced as a result of HABs from cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae.

Microcystins, more common type of cyanotoxin released from blue-green algae, was reported as being present in the lake as well, according to the press release.

HABs are nothing new to those familiar with Owasco Lake.

Shannon Collins, 21, a researcher of aquatic systems in the Finger Lakes Region, knew that the bloom was not out of the ordinary.

“Considering the higher temperatures we’ve been having, along with a very rainy summer, this bloom doesn’t seem too surprising,” said Collins via Facebook Message.

According to the New York State Department of Conservation’s Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Noti cations Page, some areas of Owasco Lake may be clear and support recreational uses however it is in one’s best interest to survey the area thoroughly.

What makes the HABs in Owasco Lake so concerning is that the lake supplies drinking water for the town of Owasco, N.Y., as wellasforthecityofAuburn,N.Y.

Ingesting the contaminated water is dangerous to humans. Some side e ects include: nausea, vomiting, skin, diarrhea, and skin or throat irritation.

According to the national 10- day Health Advisory level set by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, young children under the age of six should not drink water containing 0.3 ug/L of microcystins. School-aged children of six years and older as well as other vulnerable populations should not drink water containing 1.6 ug/L of microcystins.

As of Oct. 2, the town of Owasco, N.Y., and the city of Auburn, N.Y., had each of their respective water treatment plants tested for microcystins, according to the Cayuga County Government’s 2017 Drinking Water Sampling Data.

The levels of tested microcystins in drinking water for both municipalities are below the EPA’s national 10-day Health Advisorylevel.However,inthecity of Auburn N.Y., their raw water contains 0.45 ug/L of microcystins which can be harmful if drank by young children under the age of six.

“The blooms are just horri c,” said Bob Brower, President of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, in an interview with Payton Zigler at NCC News. “It may easily be the most signi cant water quality issue that I’ll see in my lifetime.

Collins sees the HABs not only as an issue of water quality, but also water security.

“Nevertheless, it is important that we recognize the trend of increasing harmful algal blooms in the Finger Lakes,” said Collins. “If we keep up a business as usual attitude, we could very well nd ourselves without any potable water at our ngertips in the near future.”

The FLX Press reached out to the lead reporter on water issues for Cayuga county’s “The Citizen”, Gwendolyn Craig, for comment. Craig told the FLX Press team that she would prefer not to comment on that topic since she is still actively investigating the situation.

If you spot a potential HAB, be sure to ll out a form and submit it to the NYS DEC!

Still concerned about cyanotoxins? Be sure to check out the harmful algal blooms and drinking water factsheet from the EPA for more information.

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