Harmful Algal Bloom monitoring in the Finger Lakes region, New York

Science Center Objects

Background: Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are increasingly a global concern because they pose a threat to human and aquatic ecosystem health and cause economic damages. Cyanobacterial HABs (CyanoHABs) represent a substantial threat to drinking-water supplies, aquatic ecosystem health, and safe recreational uses of freshwater resources in New York. Toxins produced by some species of cyanobacter...

Background
 
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are increasingly a global concern because they pose a threat to human and aquatic ecosystem health and cause economic damages. Cyanobacterial HABs (CyanoHABs) represent a substantial threat to drinking-water supplies, aquatic ecosystem health, and safe recreational uses of freshwater resources in New York. Toxins produced by some species of cyanobacteria (called cyanotoxins) can cause acute and chronic illnesses in humans. Aquatic ecosystem health also is affected by cyanotoxins, as well as low dissolved oxygen concentrations and changes in aquatic food webs caused by an over-abundance of cyanobacteria. For these reasons, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) conduct extensive surveillance, reporting, and documentation of shoreline and open-water CyanoHABs.
 
The environmental factors related to CyanoHAB occurrence are generally known, and include cyanobacterial community composition, nutrient concentrations, light conditions, water temperature, hydrologic conditions, and meteorological conditions. Despite this general understanding, many unanswered questions remain about occurrence, environmental triggers for toxicity, and the ability to predict the timing, duration, and toxicity of CyanoHABs. Recent advances in real-time water-quality monitoring technologies will greatly enhance our understanding of CyanoHAB dynamics, which in turn, could improve our ability to provide an early warning for occurrences in New York waterways. Reliable early warning indicators may allow proactive, rather than reactive, management approaches to ensure public health protection during CyanoHAB events. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been using advanced real-time water-quality monitoring approaches throughout the United States, including the Great Lakes, and will work with the NYSDEC and NYSDOH to establish an advanced water-quality monitoring program in three of the Finger Lakes recently affected by CyanoHABs: Owasco Lake, Seneca Lake, and Skaneateles Lake. These three lakes encompass the range of trophic and CyanoHAB conditions typically experienced in New York lakes, and knowledge gained from this effort will enhance our scientific understanding of the environmental factors associated with CyanoHAB occurrence and serve to inform the development of an advanced monitoring strategy for the State and Nation.
 
Purpose and scope
 
The purpose of the proposed study is to establish an advanced water-quality monitoring program in three Finger Lakes—Owasco Lake, Seneca Lake, and Skaneateles Lake—using a combination of advanced sensor technology and discrete water-quality data collection to better understand the environmental conditions associated with CyanoHAB development in New York lakes. Continuous water-quality monitoring stations will be established in Owasco Lake and Seneca Lake, and synoptic surveys of factors contributing to HABs will be conducted at all three lakes.
 
Objectives
 
The specific objective of this proposed study are to: 1) better understand CyanoHAB development in New York lakes using a two-year, multi-tiered approach to monitor the occurrence of and contributing factors to CyanoHABs in Owasco Lake, Seneca Lake, and Skaneateles Lake; and 2) evaluate water-quality sensors and data to help inform the development of an advanced CyanoHAB monitoring strategy for New York State and the Nation. 
 
Approach
 
The USGS will coordinate the following efforts with the NYSDEC and the Finger Lakes Water Hub, who will run concurrent sampling and profiling in each lake:
1. Deployment of advanced water-quality instrumentation in Owasco Lake and Seneca Lake to collect water-quality and meteorological data relevant to the prediction, modelling, and understanding of CyanoHABs. A multiparameter sonde will be deployed at three depths to characterize the water column and include sensors for temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, dissolved organic matter, turbidity, and chlorophyll and phycocyanin fluorescence. In addition, water-temperature and light data will be collected approximately every meter throughout the water column. Nitrate and orthophosphate analyzers will be deployed to collect near-surface nutrient data. Data will be telemetered directly to the USGS and displayed in near real-time (15 to 60-minute interval data collection [except orthophosphate, which analyzes once every four hours] broadcast to the web once per 60 minutes) through the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS; https://waterdata.usgs.gov/ny/nwis/rt/). A webcam will be installed to record bloom formation, which can be correlated with water-quality data.
2. Working with the NYSDEC, discrete water-quality samples will be collected from the instrumented locations at Owasco Lake and Seneca Lake. Discrete water-quality analyses will include nutrients, organic carbon, phytoplankton community composition, cyanotoxins, genetic potential for cyanotoxin production, and chlorophyll a and phycocyanin pigments. The frequency of sample collection will be coordinated with the NYSDEC to ensure resolution is sufficient to capture the range of conditions in each lake. 
3. Synoptic surveys of tributaries and near-shore water-quality conditions will be conducted on Owasco Lake, Seneca Lake, and Skaneateles Lake. Tributaries included in the synoptic surveys will be selected in coordination with NYSDEC. Discrete-water quality samples collected as part of the synoptic surveys will include nutrients and organic carbon. Near-shore mapping will be conducted using multiparameter sondes and nitrate analyzers with the same configurations as those deployed in the lakes to provide baseline data for lake-wide conditions, identify potential sources of nutrients not captured by tributary sampling, and identify areas with localized CyanoHABs.
4. A user-friendly online dashboard will be developed as a tool for resource managers and the public to view and explore lake conditions in near-real time. The dashboard will also provide easy access to the discrete water-quality data available through NWIS Web. An interpretive report will present the results of the study along with ways in which these and other methods can be applied across the Region and throughout the State and Nation.

Project
Location by County

Seneca County, NY, Cayuga County, NY, Onondaga County, NY