Lake Algae May Be Harmful

The county’s 16 public permitted beaches all showed a status of satisfactory Friday.

In mid-July, the county Health Department issued a warning about the dangers of blue-green algae in Chautauqua Lake. The following day, water in Bemus Point was deemed unsatisfactory because of the algae, according to the county’s Health Department Beach Monitoring Program website.

Blue-green algae is a type of cyanobacteria that forms thick mats on the water surface resembling paint and can range in color from gray to various shades of yellow, green, blue or brown. Blue-green algal blooms can be a problem because they can release a toxin, which at high levels is harmful to human and animal health if ingested.

Christine Schuyler, county health and human services director, stated in a July news release the real threat to public health from cyanobacteria is when people or pets drink or otherwise ingest water directly from a lake where a bloom is occurring.

“Lake water that is properly treated through an approved (Department of Health and Human Services) water treatment plant does not pose a risk,” she said. “Swimming or recreating in areas where the water contains high levels of toxin can cause skin irritation and other symptoms to those with high sensitivity.”

Although algae in Chautauqua Lake was initially identified as potentially being brown algae, a form of algae that poses no known health risks, new reports are indicating blue-green algae is present.

“We have sent samples of the brownish algae to the lab and have talked with additional authorities about it,” said Doug Conroe, Chautauqua Lake Association president. “Those samples have been determined to actually be a form of blue-green algae. They are not brown algae.”

Doug Conroe’s wife, Jane Conroe, is a conservationist for the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and a volunteer for the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program. She confirmed brown algae does not exist on Chautauqua Lake.

“All of the algae that we are finding is harmful,” Jane Conroe said. “Most of the algae blooms that we’re having right now is being analyzed for the species of algae that’s in there. Much of it has been blue-green.”

Additionally, Jane Conroe said the toxicity levels of the algae is ranging from low to medium to high. She recommended that if lake water looks unpleasant to not swim or allow pets to come in contact with the water.

According to Jeff Diers, Chautauqua County watershed coordinator, experts are constantly monitoring the algal species, diversity and concentration in the lake, in order to ensure the safety of all who use the lake.

“Warm weather conditions, abundant sunlight, and available nutrients have the potential to trigger blooms that may contain blue-green algae,” Diers said. “The public should pay particular attention to water clarity before they enter the water. A good rule of thumb is that if you are able to see your feet while standing in knee-deep water, there is a low to moderate risk from blue-green algae.”