Harmful algal bloom signs

Temporary signs warning of harmful algal blooms are posted around Owasco Lake.

The weather is getting cooler, but Owasco Lake is not out of the woods yet when it comes to harmful algal blooms.

Latest test results from the Cayuga County Health Department continue to show microcystin, a liver toxin released by harmful algae, in the raw lake water entering the city of Auburn's and town of Owasco's treatment plants. The drinking water, however, has remained free of toxins and is safe to consume.

The latest samples posted to the department's website were taken on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Results show microcystin was detected in the raw lake water of Auburn at 0.39 micrograms per liter and 0.17 for the town of Owasco. Samples from Monday, Oct. 16, show toxins were detected at 0.27 micrograms per liter in the raw water at Auburn and 0.28 micrograms per liter at Owasco. 

The health department continues to sample the water and send it for testing at the state Department of Health's Wadsworth Center in Albany three times a week. The department will do so until no toxins are detected in the raw water, said Environmental Health Director Eileen O'Connor in an email to The Citizen.

Meanwhile, the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program has not tested any algae samples for the month of October. Watershed Inspector Tim Schneider wrote in an email to The Citizen that the program has had calls about small, localized blooms but nothing significant enough to test. The program has used 23 tests out of 36 currently allocated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Schneider said it could have used up all the tests this year, but by sampling zones week to week and not sampling algal blooms that were near each other, they've kept the number down.

"The weather is still favorable for a bloom," he added, "but we typically do not see blooms in high frequency after the first 2 weeks of October, although blooms have been seen in (N)ovember by some volunteers."

Cayuga Lake has also had some significant harmful algal blooms this summer. The health department has occasionally tested the drinking water at the Wells College water treatment plant, and the latest sample from Tuesday, Oct. 17 shows no microcystin detected in the raw lake water or the drinking water.

Water from Skaneateles Lake also continues to be tested for toxins. Latest results from samples collect on Oct. 18 show no detection of microcystin throughout the water distribution system. Toxins were detected on Oct. 17 in the village of Skaneateles' gatehouse at 0.24 micrograms per liter. They were also detected in the ultra-violet plant in Elbridge at 0.16 micrograms per liter. According to the state Department of Health, the Elbridge result is an anomaly because the result was inconsistent with all previous drinking water samples.

Across the state, the number of reported harmful algal blooms has dropped over the past week. The DEC's page tracking blooms was updated Friday afternoon with 39 reported across the state, down from 54 a week before. Both Cayuga and Owasco lakes were on the latest list with small, localized blooms suspected from visual reports. Skaneateles Lake was dropped from the latest list.

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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County Government Reporter