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Algae toxins appear in Skaneateles Lake drinking water, Owasco Lake's untreated water

Low levels of harmful algae toxins were detected in some drinking water distributed from Skaneateles Lake, according to a statement from the state Department of Health, Onondaga County Health Department and the city of Syracuse Department of Water on Wednesday. Meanwhile, toxin and chlorophyll levels in Owasco Lake's blooms are high, though the city of Auburn and town of Owasco's treatment systems appear to be keeping the drinking water clear.

Samples collected from Skaneateles Tuesday night showed toxin levels at 0.25 micrograms per liter after Monday's tests showed 0.26. That's close to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory guideline for those with compromised immune systems, the elderly and children under the age of six, 0.3 micrograms per liter. That advisory, however, extends over a 10-day period, and this is the first day toxins have been detected. Therefore, officials have said, the water is safe to drink.

The toxin detection came from the village of Skaneateles' water sample. Down the pipeline, testing showed no detectable levels of toxins for the city of Syracuse, town of Dewitt, town of Skaneateles, the village of Elbridge and the village of Jordan, according to the joint statement.

Superintendent of Skaneateles Schools Ken Slentz notified parents and community members over Facebook Wednesday that the drinking fountains in each of the district's buildings are shut down. Slentz said the school will provide students and staff with bottled water.

What is harmful algae and what can it do to your health?

Harmful algal blooms are a kind of bacteria that usually crop up in water bodies during late summer. They can look like a thick pea soup, or like a thin blue-green film of paint on the water's surface, depending on their intensity.

Residents who receive public water from the city of Syracuse, the village of Jordan, the village of Elbridge and the town and village of Skaneateles get their drinking water from Skaneateles Lake. Six water districts from the town of Elbridge get their water from the lake including Hart Lot, West Elbridge, Crossett Road 1 and 2 and Sandbank Road, said Elbridge Town Supervisor Ken Bush. Water customers along Gorham Road, Kingston Road, Hamilton Road North and Jordan-Elbridge Road do, too, he added.

Cayuga County Health Department Director Kathleen Cuddy said seven households in the town of Sennett on Depot Road get their water from a public supply through the lake, too. About 210 households in the towns of Niles and Sempronius draw directly from Skaneateles Lake, Cuddy added, according to the health department's septic system inspection records. The department is sending out fliers to those residences with more information. 

DOH Deputy Commissioner Brad Hutton was in Syracuse Wednesday working with local officials and water operators. Unlike Auburn and Owasco's treatment plants, the city of Syracuse does not use a filtration system. It does use chlorine to disinfect, however, and Hutton said the city was ramping up its usage to treat the toxins.

Though chlorine causes the algae cells to break and release the toxins, Hutton said optimized levels of chlorine and contact time can oxidize the toxins, too. Water operators are working closely with DOH to not only monitor the algae but also the levels of chlorine. Too much chlorine can also cause health complications, but Hutton said water operators are monitoring the levels at multiple points throughout the water system and boosting the water flow where needed.

"We're going to be working closely with the county for the foreseeable future," Hutton said in a phone interview with The Citizen. "The situation with the blooms on the lake will certainly warrant daily testing. Whether we're here on site, or not, we're still working closely and communicating those results to the public."

Scientists at the DOH's Albany lab the Wadsworth Center, he added, have been working at all hours conducting tests for multiple lakes and water bodies. The drinking water from Skaneateles, he said, is a priority and the center is handling it accordingly.

Cuddy said while it's unfortunate that Owasco Lake was the first to experience harmful algal bloom toxins in the drinking water, her department has been able to share its knowledge with surrounding county health departments, including Onondaga County.

Meanwhile, water from Owasco Lake entering the city of Auburn's treatment plant showed detectable levels of the toxin at 0.18 micrograms per liter, according to the Cayuga County Health Department's latest test results from samples collected on Monday. No toxins were detected in the treated drinking water, nor were they detected in the raw or treated water at the town of Owasco's plant.

Cuddy said the department is sticking to testing the water three times per week, only going to daily testing if toxins were detected in the drinking water. Samples were collected Wednesday and sent to the Wadsworth Center. She hopes to have those results by Thursday morning. The department plans to collect additional samples on Friday.

Both the town and the city activated their algae toxin treatment systems on Friday after a plethora of blooms over the last several days in Owasco Lake. Latest test results of those blooms on the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program's page showed extremely high levels of chlorophyll a in samples collected on Sunday and Monday. Chlorophyll a is considered one of the indicators for harmful algal blooms.

On Sunday, chlorophyl a levels off of Peterson Point in Fleming were more than 1,800 times the DEC's threshold of 25 micrograms per liter to confirm a bloom. Nearly identical levels were found off of Lindenwood Cove on Monday. Toxin levels were still not available as of Wednesday afternoon. 

Meanwhile an Ithaca-based environmental firm held a news conference in Albany on Wednesday to discuss harmful algal blooms. In a release, President of Toxics Targeting Walter Hang blasted the state Department of Environmental Conservation claiming that the agency has known about pollution hazards in multiple water bodies, and has failed to remedy them.

"New Yorkers should be appalled by the State Department of Environmental Conservation's shocking inability to safeguard critical drinking water sources from massive Harmful Algal Blooms which endanger public health," Hang said in a release. "New York is facing a drinking water pollution crisis of unprecedented proportions."

Jackie Lendrum, a research scientist with the DEC's Division of Water, said the DEC's approach is to develop solutions based on science. She pointed to the DEC's work on creating a Total Maximum Daily Load, a kind of pollution diet, for Cayuga Lake. The DEC is also working with Cayuga County on creating a Nine Elements Plan, similar to a TMDL, for Owasco Lake. 

"At the end of the day, it comes back to sound science," she said. "We let science be our guide and come up with the most effective management strategy."

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Joe Holland, son of Dr. Jerome H. “Brud” Holland, after whom Holland Stadium is named, speaks during the opening ceremony for the newly renovated stadium and turf field in Auburn Wednesday.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Students run onto the field at the end of the ceremony.

Ledyard town clerk who refused to sign same-sex marriage licenses may depart

Rose Marie Belforti will appear on the Election Day ballot in the town of Ledyard, but her tenure as clerk could be coming to a close.

The longtime town clerk who received national attention in 2011 when she refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses is in the process of selling her farm and preparing to move out of state. She confirmed in an email that there is a purchase contract on the farm she owns with her husband in Ledyard.

The sale is expected to close in early October, Belforti wrote to The Citizen. Once the transaction is finalized and their calves due in October are strong enough to travel, they will move.

Belforti's plans provide a twist to what is shaping up to be a three-way race for Ledyard town clerk.

Belforti, a Republican, has the GOP ballot line and the incumbency advantage — she has served as clerk since 2002. Jamie Bailey will run on the Jamie Bailey Party line, an independent party she created after missing the deadline to challenge for the Republican nomination.

A third candidate, Tiffany Potter, will mount a write-in campaign.

Bailey, 38, previously worked as an office manager and was employed for 10 years at an investment firm. She is now a stay-at-home parent and cares for her two children.

She hasn't held public office, but she has been involved in local community organizations. She was a member of the Aurora Preschool Board and she's a current member of the Aurora Volunteer Fire Department's auxiliary. She also successfully advocated for the return of a school resource officer at the Southern Cayuga Central School District.

A registered Republican, Bailey challenged Belforti in the 2009 GOP primary. Belforti won the primary and was re-elected to another two-year term.

For this election, she narrowly missed the deadline to force a Republican primary. She pursued an independent ballot line, which she named the Jamie Bailey Party.

"I just put it under my name to make it simple for everyone," Bailey said. "I am for all the love of Ledyard. It's going to be on my signs."

Potter, 33, is employed as a secretary at a local garage and works part-time at MacKenzie-Childs on weekends. She was motivated to run for town clerk after the death of her 1-month old nephew, who was killed in a crash in the town of Fleming last year.

"The way the community came together for my family inspired me. It was just amazing," she said. "I wanted to be a part of something bigger and be a part of the community."

Potter's educational background includes studio art and design, telecommunications and she attended an equestrian school. She is working to launch her own company, Arrowhead Stables, that would rescue racehorses, retrain them and give them new homes.

She won't appear on the ballot. She has named her campaign "Potter for the People" and is urging voters to support her write-in candidacy. She also hopes her experience as a deputy clerk under Belforti will boost her campaign.

Bailey and Potter differ from Belforti on the issue of same-sex marriage licenses. Dating back to 2011, shortly after the state legalized same-sex marriage, Belforti said she wouldn't sign marriage licenses for gay couples. She agreed to delegate all marriage license responsibilities to a deputy clerk.

Potter, who is currently one of Belforti's deputy clerks, said she has "no problem" signing same-sex marriage licenses.

"I have no issue with it, so I would sign for anybody," Potter said.

Bailey admitted she was "upset" by Belforti's decision not to sign same-sex marriage licenses. She hinted that she considered challenging Belforti in 2011, but wasn't prepared for a political campaign.

If elected, she pledged to sign all marriage licenses.

"(The town clerk) is hired by the people to do a job and you need to fulfill that job," she said. "I don't think you or anyone else can pick and choose what you like to do at your job. You're expected to do a job to the fullest extent."

The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Man appears to have drowned after Wednesday morning swim in Skaneateles Lake

The body of a Skaneateles Lake boater who went missing while taking a swim Wednesday morning was later located by divers. 

According to the Onondaga County 911 Dispatch Center, a call came in at around 8:30 a.m. to report a possible drowning at 1769 Shady Bend Lane in Spafford. That road is just off East Lake Road.

Joshua D. Sharpe, a 38-year-old man from LaFayette, was fishing with a friend approximately 80 yards from the shore when he jumped off the boat and into the water, according to state police. Sharpe swam for several minutes and then swam underwater. Police said when he did not resurface, his friend entered the water in an attempt to find Sharpe but could not.  

Spafford Fire District Chief Rick Wise said when firefighters got to the scene, Sharpe still had not surfaced and a search from the shore could not locate him, Wise said.

Skaneateles Water Rescue was activated and divers found Sharpe at around 9:50 a.m. in about 25 feet of water approximately 80 feet from the shore, according to state police. 

Sharpe was removed from the water and was unresponsive, Wise said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. 

According to Wise, the other man in the boat was uninjured.

New York State Police, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, Skaneateles Fire and Rescue, Skaneateles Ambulance Volunteer Emergency Services, and Borodino Fire Department all responded to the scene, according to state police. 

State police are investigating the incident and an autopsy is scheduled to determine the official cause of death.