There has been significant discussion recently about several issues, both old and new, affecting Owasco Lake. The three major concerns — lake foam, blue-green algae, and Asian clams — each have their own severity and concerns.
Many people have been concerned with long lines of foam in the lake, running north to south and accumulating along the shoreline. Fortunately, this foam is natural and is not harmful to recreation or drinking water. Foam is common in the fall because there is a greater influx of nutrients from rotting aquatic vegetation and the natural mixing of the colder bottom waters with the warmer surface waters, along with strong winds. Natural foam is commonly mistaken for household detergents. Foam caused by detergents would have a fragrant smell with a pinkish color, while natural foam has an earthy smell. Some sources have also attributed increased amounts of foaming in lakes when there is a large die-off of zebra mussels.
Blue-green algae in the lake is definitely of greater concern. Fortunately for this year, we should not see any more blooms because the water temperature of the lake is too cold for it to grow. During a blue-green algae bloom, people and pets should avoid contact with the water due to the associated health risks from the toxins released by the algae. Water consumed during a bloom can cause damage to the liver and nervous systems of both people and animals. Also, breathing in the toxins or touching the algae can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, as well as inflammation in the respiratory tract.
The third of these concerns is the recent discovery of Asian clams (golden clams) in the lake. One of the major issues with the clams is that they are hermaphroditic and a single clam produces more than 400 offspring a day when conditions are right, which in Owasco Lake, would be from July to September. The two major documented problems in other water bodies with Asian clams is their ability to clog water intake pipes, and as a major contributor to widespread algae blooms. Asian clams release phosphorus into the water column, making the phosphorus readily available for the algae.
Recent discoveries and management efforts are underway in Lake George and Lake Tahoe, with one of the major concerns being the increased algal growth in two lakes noted for their clear, blue waters. In an effort to control the spread of Asian clams in Owasco Lake, as well as the transportation to other local waterbodies, lakefront owners are asked to participate in a lakeshore survey. Lakefront owners are strongly encouraged to go to their beach and look for shells, or rake a few inches out in the water, looking for live clams. Results of the survey can be reports at the Owasco Lake Watershed Network’s (OWN) website at www.owascolake.org. Both positive and negative determinations for the clams should be reported!
Understanding how all of these issues are related and determining ways to control or eliminate the issue is of utmost importance. More information about these topics can be found on the OWN website and the Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency’s website (www.co.cayuga.ny.us/wqma).
Jessica Miles is the Owasco Lake watershed inspector