A call to protect the Finger Lakes from harmful algal blooms was the message from Lisa Cleckner, director of HWS’ Finger Lakes Institute, on a recent edition of “The Capitol Pressroom” on public broadcasting station WCNY. Cleckner was interviewed on Wednesday, Aug. 22 by the program’s host Susan Arbetter.
Cleckner spoke about the presence of cyanobacteria in the Finger Lakes. Also known as blue-green algae, it is “a common part of the phytoplankton community that is resident in any lake,” she says. The problem occurs when the cyanobacteria grow to harmful concentrations and accumulate near the shore—called a Harmful Algal Bloom, or HAB.
“Some of the cyanobacteria can produce toxins,” said Cleckner. “This makes these areas unsuitable for recreational activities such as swimming or boating, and can impact drinking water supplies.” The consequences of drinking the water can be severe, impacting the liver or nervous system, or causing skin inflammation.
Excess phosphorus and nitrogen in the water are a primary cause of HABs. Run-off from farms or lakefront homes may contain these elements, which are found in fertilizer applications or improperly maintained septic systems. Increased waterfront development, meanwhile, can eliminate the riparian buffer zones that act like a sponge to soak up the run-off before it reaches the lake. A recent example of this, says Cleckner, was a HAB found by staff of the Finger Lakes Institute in Seneca Lake near Lodi Point.
One key to maintaining river health and avoiding HABs is to work toward a balance between environmentalists and those who favor economic development along the lakeshores. “We should be doing everything we can to protect the quality of our lakes,” she says.