What Do HABs Harriers Do?

What Do HABs Harriers Do?

HABs Harrier volunteers will be tracking where and when HABs blooms arise to keep the public safe from the toxins that are frequently found in the blooms. As a HABs Harrier, you would be assigned to a stretch of lakefront to survey once a week and to collect samples if blooms are spotted. These samples will be analyzed for toxicity and all results will be sent to the public to alert them of a bloom in their area. The HABs monitors ensure that more of the lake has eyes on it, making the process of identifying blooms and keeping the public safe from exposure much faster.

Monitoring HABs is essential to understanding the bigger picture of how these booms spread and change with the climate and with time. That being said it is important to address the sources of HABs. Non-point source pollution, including agricultural run-off can contribute to the growth and spread of HABs in Cayuga Lake, though the exact mechanisms are complicated and still being studied. One reason why nutrient addition gets so much attention is that ecologically speaking, we can’t control the weather, wind, temperature, or biotic interactions in the lake between species, even though all of these factors also contribute to HABs. The DEC’s statewide HABs Action Plan was recently released; it discusses actions that will address non-point source pollution such as agricultural run-off. Local volunteer efforts are truly an important part of keeping the public safe from HABs and prompting government actions to stopping the spread and increase of HABs.

Under the guidance of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network (CLWN), the Community Science Institute (CSI), and Discover Cayuga Lake (DCL), HABs volunteer monitors (HABs Harriers) will be tracking where and when HABs arise to prevent the public’s exposure to toxins that can be found in blooms. 

Routine monitoring by HABs Harriers will ensure that a higher percentage of blooms are observed, sampled, and tested in a timely fashion.

HABs Harriers are part of the DEC HABs Program run by Dr. Rebecca Gorney. The DEC HABs Program oversees HAB monitoring and surveillance activities, directs outreach/education and communication on public health risks, and conducts research to provide data and insights for the management of NY waters. The DEC had about 5 HABs monitors last summer on Cayuga Lake, trained on identifying HABs and collecting samples to be analyzed. Once a HABs bloom is located, the beach must be closed until the testing gets back with results that the blooms are non-toxic, a process takes 10 days or more. Last summer, this slow process cost many residents their summer vacation. In collaboration with CSI, CLWN has recruited over 60 volunteers who will be trained to recognize HABs, collect bloom samples, and maintain vigilant surveillance of the Cayuga Lake shoreline. We have been reaching out to local environmental groups, wineries, marinas, and other facilities to alert them of this program. 

With local observers sending in bloom reports and samples each week, toxic blooms can be identified much faster and more accurately, and thus can be eradicated more quickly.

This is the flowchart outlining the 2018 Cayuga Lake HABs Monitoring Program:

Flow Chart for HABS monitoring showing how information is conveyed

HABs Harriers will play an important role in the NYDEC’s HABs Action Plan, which itself is part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s $65 million 4-point initiative “to aggressively combat harmful algal blooms in Upstate New York that threaten the recreational use of lakes that are important to upstate tourism, as well as sources of drinking water.” This initiative builds on New York’s $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act investments in clean water infrastructure and water quality protection. Our HABs monitoring program is tied to all of these initiatives; it is one part of a nation-wide response to legitimate concerns about HABs.

The HABs Action Plan was developed collaboratively by local stakeholders, national experts and The State’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team, co-chaired by DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker. The goal of the Action Plan is to identify contributing factors fueling HABs. New York State will provide $500,000 per lake to develop immediate action plans to reduce sources of pollution that spark algal blooms, and an overall $60 million in grant funding to implement the Action Plans, including new monitoring and treatment technologies.

While unveiling the 4-point initiative to the 2018 State of the State, Governor Cuomo stated, 

“Protecting water quality is a top priority and through these actions and funding, we are providing direct assistance to communities to ensure their water resources remain clean… This comprehensive program will continue New York’s national leadership in responding to the threat of harmful algal blooms and implement new and innovative strategies to safeguard our clean water for future generations.”

Person leaning out of boat taking sample of soupy algae on lake surface.