Research efforts around water quality issues will get a new boost this spring when the HWS Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) launches a high-tech water monitoring buoy in Owasco Lake, the sixth largest of the Finger Lakes.
The newly attained $100,000 YSI Water Quality Monitoring System will monitor and collect critical water column profile data, including temperature, salinity, and total algae, as well as hourly meteorological data such as temperature, humidity and wind speed.
Data will give HWS researchers and colleagues a better understanding of the factors that define the limnology and water quality of the lake. Water quality reseach and related studies have been vital for understanding the Finger Lakes and its surrounding environment.
“Monitoring the lake will provide the best possible dataset to detect any changes in water quality from day to day, month to month and year to year,” says Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies John Halfman, who is the FLI Endowed Chair in Environmental Studies. “It provides a reliable means to see what impact any remediation efforts in the watershed have had on water quality in the lake.”
The buoy will be deployed at the north-central part of Owasco Lake, near a site previously occupied by a buoy deployed by Upstate Freshwater Institute.
Since 2005, FLI has been monitoring Owasco Lake and its major tributaries. The efforts were initiated by a generous grant from the Emerson Foundation that leveraged additional support from the state, county and town watershed associations, as well as other sources.
FLI is working to identify additional funding sources to help defray the cost to deploy, retrieve and maintain the buoy, as well as to develop a web portal to display, store and enable downloading of near real-time data. The web portal and assured maintenance enables kindergarten through 12th-grade students and teachers, college students and other researchers to investigate water quality issues in Owasco Lake and to compare them to data from a similar buoy deployed in Seneca Lake.
“Both lakes are similar in water quality, but Seneca is many times larger than Owasco,” Halfman says. “The size difference may impact the recovery speed and day to day changes in water quality. It provides many opportunities for students to learn about and discover.”
Recent water monitoring efforts have determined that monthly or bi-monthly monitoring can miss critical algal blooms, the impact of day-long or multi-day precipitation events, and other forcing issues. The ability of the new monitoring buoy to collect water column profiles every 12 hours will overcome that gap.
The accumulated data would also improve the ability to assess changes in water quality from one year to the next. The data is important for making assessments that will be able to improve the ongoing and proposed remediation efforts in the watershed.
The buoy will also incorporate a sensor for blue-green algae, proving a watchdog service for the presence of harmful algal blooms. It will give water providers the opportunity to take appropriate steps to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water.
Blue-green algae species are indicative of more productive systems, with a number of species toxic to humans and other warm blooded organisms. Over the past few years, those types of algae have been increasingly detected.
In addition, the monitoring system sensors will detect intrusions of saline and turbid water, providing an early warning system for spills and other accidents related to the potential drilling of Marcellus Shale gas in the watershed. The deployment will also collect critical baseline data for comparison to potential problems.