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OWASCO — When Gov. Andrew Cuomo learned of the water quality issues affecting Auburn-area communities served by Owasco Lake, he was moved to act. 

At an event held at the Emerson Park Pavilion on Wednesday, Cuomo announced the state will fund the installation of two systems that aim to address concerns about blue-green algae toxins detected in drinking water supplies for the city of Auburn and town of Owasco. 

The city will receive $600,000 to install a powdered activated carbon system and the town will get $800,000 to set up a granular carbon treatment system. Both systems can absorb blue-green algae toxins and ensure drinking water is clean and safe. 

The funding for the systems will come from more than $2 million that was included in this year's budget for Auburn and Owasco drinking water upgrades. Cuomo first proposed the funding in January when he released his budget plan for the year. 

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health approved the use of the systems, Cuomo said. The agencies will monitor the systems to ensure they're effective in removing any blue-green algae toxins from the water supply. 

The decision to install the systems follows studies spearheaded by the city and town. The studies, which received $150,000 in state funding, examined strategies to treat drinking water after detectable levels of blue-green algae toxins were found last fall. 

While the toxins didn't reach the level of a public health concern, it got the attention of federal, state and local officials. 

Cuomo counted himself among those concerned about the impact on drinking water from the lake. He said it was one of the situations that led him to push for a clean water infrastructure fund in this year's budget. 

The governor's proposal called for the establishment of a $2 billion clean water infrastructure fund. The final budget includes $2.5 billion for water infrastructure projects. The funding was supported by legislators, especially Republicans in the state Senate who mainly represent upstate communities.

Cayuga County's state legislative delegation supported the investments. 

"It's a significant expense," Cuomo said. "But as I mentioned this is a statewide problem and there is no cheap solution to this. This is not the place where'd you want a cheap solution because this literally goes to the health and the quality of the water we're drinking." 

Local leaders are appreciative of the state's attention to the Auburn-area drinking water infrastructure needs. 

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Auburn Mayor Michael Quill said representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health have been in the city nearly every day. 

The funding, though, is arguably the most important show of the state's support. Without that aid, Quill said the city "would be hurting" and would have to cut other services to come with the money needed for water system upgrades. 

"It's our obligation to supply clean, safe drinking water and this certainly goes a long way," he said. 

Owasco Supervisor Ed Wagner added that, like the city, the town wouldn't have been able to make the necessary upgrades without the state funding. 

He also believes it may help alleviate concerns of residents who had reservations about consuming tap water. 

"It all comes down to health-related issues and he's protecting the health of our citizens," Wagner said, referring to Cuomo. 

While Cuomo said the upgrades are a short-term fix, the systems may become a permanent solution. Adjustments can be made if the need arises, he added. 

He's also hopeful that they can eliminate the algal blooms in Owasco Lake. Blue-green algae has long been an issue for the lake and eradicating the blooms will require a more extensive strategy.

Cuomo backed efforts to reduce runoff into the lake, implement more agricultural controls and more sustainable development. 

"We're on top of it, and we're going to make sure that the water is of a quality that we would give our children," he said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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