Researching and Fighting Harmful Algal Blooms in New York

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when certain colonies of algae grow out of control, consuming most of the oxygen in an area of water and sometimes producing large amounts of toxins that are dangerous for people and animals. Unfortunately, HABs have been on the rise in bodies of water across New York State in recent years—arriving earlier in the year, sticking around later, and blooming more severely. While the reasons why this is occurring are complex and still being studied, we know that climate change is a factor.

HABs aren’t just dangerous to human health when we physically encounter them in the water. When HABs bloom in bodies of water that are used for municipal drinking water supplies, they also threaten drinking water safety. Beyond the threats to human and animal health, HABs can harm the marine economy and force beaches to close. For all of these reasons, New York State is taking the threat of HABs very seriously and has been working to both better understand the causes of HABs and develop better techniques for combating them.

Recently, the State deployed experimental technologies on Lake Neatahwanta to fight HABs. Lake Neatahwanta, located near the city of Fulton in Oswego County, is often used for recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. The lake has experienced large HABs each year between May and October since at least 2012, and recent lake water quality data indicates that the lake is eutrophic with high levels of nutrients, algae, and toxins.

These new technologies are being piloted by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and Clarkson University, the co-leads of the State’s Center of Excellence in Healthy Water Solutions. Clarkson’s technical and engineering expertise and ESF’s experience in environmental monitoring and watershed ecosystem management have created a unique and well-balanced partnership that can holistically tackle the problem of HABs. SUNY ESF has developed electrochemical oxidation filtration systems while Clarkson has developed hydrodynamic cavitation with hydrogen peroxide.

The Department of Environmental Conservation expects that these technologies will move from prototype status to full-scale deployed mechanisms by the end of the summer, moving New York closer to achieving clean water for all. If these technologies are successful in New York, they can be exported to help other states address their own problems with HABs and continue New York’s national environmental leadership.