Lake group will expand monitoring
KEUKA LAKE--Over 150 Keuka Lake Association members and area residents met at Keuka College Monday, Aug. 20 for the annual water quality summit. Panelists from the region and state shared information about joint efforts to expand ongoing water monitoring procedures in light of recent reports of harmful algal blooms (HABs).
Data on lake nutrient levels and contamination will provide information for the development of a Nine Element Watershed Plan, an analysis of a body of water's pollution sources and potential remedies, outlined by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). This will give the association more leverage in applying for a state grant from the water quality improvement project to help clean the lake.
The panel consisted of four speakers--Lisa Cleckner, director of the Finger Lakes Institute; Tim Sellers, Keuka College director of the center for aquatic research; Maria Hudson, director-at-large of the Keuka Lake Association; and Tony Prestigiacomo, research scientist for the NYSDEC Watershed Hub.
Each speaker represented a different aspect of the water improvement initiatives, highlighting a common theme found among their speeches--improving Keuka Lake will require all community hands on deck, from local volunteers to educators from a variety of fields.
"It's not just scientists, but you also need policy makers. We need people to talk to their elected officials. We have to understand social sciences and behavior," Cleckner said. "We need to pull together the whole community and try to figure out how to best move things forward for the best of the watersheds."
Cleckner addressed methods of involving community volunteers and broadening support network; Sellers described the development of HABs in Keuka Lake; Hudson described ongoing monitoring via sampling; Prestigiacomo described the components and utility of a Nine Element Plan and how it can be used to merit state support.
"It behooves us all to start working together, to start sharing information, not only across watershed associations, but across lakes, across academic institutions, public private--any collaboration that you can move forward with," Cleckner said.
Keuka Lake Association volunteers and researchers will continue to monitor water and record data as they have for more than two decades, with the addition of Professional External Evaluation of Rivers and Streams (PEERS) directed at detecting chemical contaminants and other nonpoint source pollutants, pollutants without discrete origins like agricultural runoff. Volunteers will collect water samples at Sugar Creek and Cold Brook, two principal streams flowing into Keuka Lake.
"We have control over septic systems. We can control people who are dumping," Hudson said, highlighting sources of point source pollutants. "There's a lot of point source pollution going into the watershed that we don't know about, and we don't know how to control it."
The summit coincided with an increase in harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Keuka Lake. The New York State Department of Health has closed public swimming areas due to reports of toxicity. Most recently Aug. 16, Indian Pines and Red Jacket Beaches were closed "until further notice," just seven days after re-opening to the public. This followed a five-day period earlier in August when they were also directed to be closed.
Sellers presented test results spanning 20 years, indicating a downward trend in phosphorus, chlorophyll, algae, water clarity until 2017, when these levels increased in close succession. These nutrients have since fed a toxic growth of cyanobacteria, otherwise known as blue-green algae, because they produce toxic chemicals, otherwise known as HABs.
2017 marked the first time the presenters could recall when all 11 Finger Lakes had HABs. Sellers's data indicated how the lake's nutrient and algal levels have remained steady for the past two decades.
"What could be the reasons we're seeing these HABs not just in the usual places?" Sellers asked. "We're going to have to look at our agricultural inputs and land use changes."
This is where the Nine Element Watershed Plan comes into play, because it's suited to address nonpoint pollution sources, like agriculture runoff and other pollutants without discrete origins.
After research is gathered, the remaining components of the Nine Element Watershed Plan include identifying water quality target and the financial and scientific means for achieving it. Prestigiacomo said a lot of the "heaving lifting" has already been accomplished thanks to the Keuka Lake Management Plan.
"It's your plan; it's your time," he said. "You can refer to me or the DEC throughout the process."