FLEMING — As the Finger Lakes enter the prime season for harmful algal blooms, trained volunteers this week started patrols around Owasco Lake as part of a partnership with the state to monitor for blooms.
In conjunction with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, 26 volunteers from the Owasco Watershed Lake Association on Monday made their first rounds as part of this year's harmful algal bloom shoreline surveillance program.
First started in 2016, the program provides volunteers with specialized training to enable them to accurately identify and report HABs to the DEC. Each Monday from July to September, volunteers walk the shorelines of their designated areas looking for HABs.
If a bloom is spotted, volunteers follow specific quality assurance practices to ensure they take a viable sample of a possible bloom, which is then sent to a lab for toxicity testing.
Bill Phillips, an OWLA member who is leading the volunteer effort this season, said at the group's monthly meeting Wednesday that volunteers did not spot any potential blooms since beginning on Monday.
However, Phillips said he expects a tough year for blooms, given recent high rainfalls combined with windless, sunny days — the conditions the cyanobacteria that form HABs thrive in.
This year, volunteers are also able to upload their reports to the state's new online HAB notification page, which provides much more specific information on reported HABs compared to the previous system.
Members of the public can fill out a form on the page indicating where they've spotted a potential bloom, what it looks like, and even upload a picture of it, which is then reviewed by the DEC.
Thanks to an established record of correctly spotting blooms, trained volunteers are able to access a special version of the form to directly upload their reports, OWLA President Julie Lockhart, who led the program last year, said.
Despite the advances in the reporting system, Lockhart said it's still best to follow the DEC's mantra of "Know it, avoid it, report it," when it comes to HABs.
"It really is impossible to notifying up to the minute what a HAB is doing, because they just change so quickly," Lockhart said.
HABs can be distinguished from other types of algae by their appearance, which can range "from scattered green dots in the water, to long, linear green streaks, pea soup or spilled green paint, to blue-green or white coloration, according to the DEC.
More information on HABs, including the new reporting system or how to identify them, can be found at dec.ny.gov/83310.html.
The Cayuga County Health Department also has a page dedicated to HABs, including drinking water sampling data, at cayugacounty.us/742/Harmful-Algal-Blooms.