Chautauqua Lake Association Hosts Blue-Green Algae Specialist

LAKEWOOD – Blue-green algae season has arrived for Chautauqua Lake.

The Chautauqua Lake Association hosted an informational session at its annual meeting Monday night at the Lakewood Rod and Gun Club with a special guest to discuss the presence of blue-green algal blooms in Chautauqua Lake.

Gregory Boyer, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and the director of the Great Lakes Research Consortium at the State University of New York ?College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, provided a lengthy lecture to association members about the presence of algae on the lake, and what to look for.

Blue-green algae, a form of bacteria, sits on the surface of the water and has a paint-like appearance.

Sometimes blooms give the water a discolored blue tint, and other times the colonies are massive and can be seen in pellet-sized groups.

“We think of them as a very primitive algae, but as a fact they have adaptations to light,” Boyer said. “They have gas vessels and can inflate and collapse. Early in the morning, they inflate their gas vessels, float on the surface and then disappear in the middle of the day when it becomes too bright for them.”

Later in the evening, blue-green algae reappear.

Nitrogen, phosphorous and sunlight are necessary for blue-green algae to survive, along with a warm water temperature.

“You can’t do a lot about temperature, you can’t do a lot about light and you can’t do anything about the wind blowing the colonies across the lake,” Boyer said. “The only thing we realistically can control is nutrients.”

In 2013, the biggest blooms arrived in July and August, while toxins were well above advisory guidelines in August and September.

He said aging septic systems around the lake contribute to the issue, and forming a continuous sewer system would help drastically.

“The best way to control blue-green algae is to get everybody working together,” Boyer said. “That’s how you’ll see the best results.”

While the algae blooms are very common statewide, about 10 percent have potentially harmful toxins, he added. These can result in skin rashes and digestive issues.

“With blue-green algae, you have toxic, non-toxic and potentially toxic blooms,” Boyer said. “When the Department of Environmental Conservation sends out their advisories, they don’t verify whether the blooms are toxic. They simply say, ‘Stay out of the water.'”

No one has ever died in the United States from ingesting blue-green algae. However, he said it is necessary to avoid ingesting it through recreational contact, and that animals are affected the most.

Boyer said if pets happen to swim through the algae and later clean their fur, they may become sick.

“If you see a bloom, remember four things,” Boyer said. “Not all blooms are toxic, don’t drink the water, don’t let children ingest it and hose your dog off with clean water should the need arise.”

An audience member asked if breathing in the odor from algal blooms is harmful, to which Boyer responded it is completely harmless.

He also said most fish do not accumulate toxic blue-green algae, but some may be harmful to eat.