One of the things that New Yorkers can count on is an abundant supply of fresh water. Or can they? For three days in 2014, almost a half-million people on the shores of Lake Erie—one of the world’s greatest freshwater resources—found the water in their faucets unsafe. Could a toxic algae bloom like the one that left people without tap water in Toledo, Ohio happen in New York?
“We need to be concerned about blue-green algae in all our water bodies, including the Finger Lakes,” says Jim Howe, director of The Nature Conservancy's Central & Western New York Chapter. “However, we need to remember that blue-green algae blooms are just a symptom. The real issue is that we’re allowing too many nutrients—especially phosphorus—to enter our rivers and lakes.” Of all the Finger Lakes, Honeoye Lake is most at risk. In 2013, a toxic bloom in Honeoye Lake closed beaches for most of the summer.
Now, a Conservancy water quality project in Honeoye Lake has identified places where stream restoration can help remove nutrients and sediment before they reach Honeoye Lake, the Genesee River and Lake Ontario.
“When phosphorus increases by even a small amount, it can cause accelerated plant growth, algae blooms, low dissolved oxygen and the death of certain fish, invertebrates and other aquatic animals,” explains Stevie Adams, a Conservancy freshwater practitioner.
In two Finger Lakes, the Conservancy is working alongside local watershed groups to restore wetlands and reconnect stream flows to their flood plain so that nature can filter out sediment and nutrients before floors reach the lakes. If successful, these projects will provide a model for water quality improvement strategies in other lakes, ensuring that clean water remains available to local communities.