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A harmful algal bloom at Firelane 25 West.

Do you know the latest status of your Owasco Lake's water quality? Has it improved? Were the harmful algal blooms larger and more frequent last year? If so, what is being done to shrink their quantity and coverage? Why do they occur? Can anything be done to suppress them?

To learn about solutions underway to reduce and prevent HABs and their potential release of toxins, you are invited to attend March to Lake Day, a free “plain English” scientific symposium, from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 10, at Auburn Public Theater. Hosted by the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, this free event will feature six different presentations.

First up will be Dr. John Halfman, professor of environmental studies at the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He is returning to give his annual assessment of the lake, gleaned from his twice-a-week summer 2017 water sampling and testing in Owasco Lake. With data from every year since 2005, including similar testing info from other Finger Lakes, he possesses a unique perspective as to the causes of any quality issues, and will offer his latest recommendations to improve the lake's condition.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency have two similar methods to restore and protect water bodies: a nine-element watershed plan and a total maximum daily load. These watershed-based plans identify and quantify sources of pollutants (nutrients), set goals to reduce them and describe practices to achieve the reductions needed to improve water quality.

Detailing the plan will be the next presenter, Dr. Liz Moran, president and principal scientist at EcoLogic. In 2017, Cayuga County officials hired EcoLogic to supplement the 2016 Owasco Lake Watershed Management and Waterfront Revitalization Plan with updates designed to meet state and federal requirements for a nine-element plan. Nine-element plans are considered better for reducing “non-point” source pollutants, such as sediment in stormwater runoff. Reducing nutrient loading provides less food for HABs to grow and expand

To explain the unique features of a TMDL will be Terry Cuddy, representing Save Owasco Now. Though almost interchangeable with a nine-element plan, TMDLs are better in identifying “point” sources of pollutants, like wastewater treatment plants. Once established, TMDLs regulate the maximum pollutant allowed to discharge into a water body.

Next up is Larry Campanelli, an OWLA member, who will provide research on new options and very interesting technologies to disrupt and prevent HABs directly in the lake water. In addition to aerators and bubblers that help to disrupt HABs, new ultrasonic buoys possess the potential to prevent and eliminate cyanobacteria (the toxin releasers) over large areas. While multiple efforts are continuing to reduce nutrients flowing into the lake and to stop nourishing HABs, it is time to try and implement additional solutions to hinder them in the lake before or as they occur.

Also presenting will be an another OWLA member with updates on the several projects, programs and funding sources OWLA volunteers are pursuing to expand their efforts for our precious lake water. OWLA is in the third year of restoration actions funded by a 2015 state grant, and is pursuing a renewal of this funding in the 2018 state budget. Multiple erosion control sites and stream bank stabilization measures were completed. Expanded tributary sampling will occur in 2018 to further identify nutrient hotspots and mitigate these sources.

Last, there will be a presentation summarizing the March 5-6 HAB summit by Tony Prestigiacomo, a research scientist with the Finger Lakes Water Hub.

All stakeholders are invited to learn about the health of our drinking water source, and the many ongoing efforts, plans, and recommendations to enlarge the battle to improve its water quality.

Rick Nelson is a member of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association Board of Directors. For more information, visit