An event Wednesday in Geneva focused on protecting water quality from blue green algae

Keuka Lake became one of the latest Finger Lakes this summer to fall victim to harmful blue green algae. While some beaches on that lake were reopened within a few days, on Aug. 9, after health officials deemed them safe, the threat remains on Keuka and other waterways statewide.

So far this summer, Canandaigua hasn’t joined the list of now 60 waterways — including Honeoye Lake — affected statewide by blue green algae.

Harmful algae blooms can be deadly to animals and harmful to humans, causing vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, allergic reactions or difficulty breathing.

On Wednesday, a lecture hall at Hobart and William Smith Colleges was filled with watershed and health professionals, students, lake homeowners and others concerned with the problem who turned out to learn more. Presenters included research scientists Tony Prestigiacomo and Scott Cook with Finger Lakes Water Hub. The state Department of Environmental Conservation established the Hub in October 2016. Composed of scientists and policy makers, the team is addressing Finger Lakes water quality issues.

One of the projects is a $600,000 initiative to study algal blooms and do projects to reduce pollution in the Owasco Lake watershed. Late last year, harmful algal blooms infected Owasco Lake and infiltrated the water supply going to residents in Cayuga County, though the DEC ruled that the water was still safe to drink.

Cyanotoxins from algae blooms are now the most prevalent emerging contaminants in drinking supplies. The challenges of protecting drinking water was a focus of the seminar that included presenters with OBG Operations: Frank DeOrio, senior technical manager, and Rick Gell, senior managing engineer with the water resources company.

Anthony Vodacek, professor of Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology, was also on the panel. On the horizon are developments in technology to detect, monitor and treat algae blooms with drones. Satellite images are already used to pinpoint algae, and smartphones can be made to detect the presence of the toxins.

Lisa Cleckner, director Finger Lakes Institute, one of the event’s sponsors, urged people to talk to their government leaders, at the local, state and national levels, about their concerns. She said continued support for research can help solve many of the problems associated harmful algae.

Betsy Landre, senior planner with Ontario County, asked about a plan of action going forward. Plans calls for a separate plan for each of the Finger Lakes, to include input from groups focused on public health and conservation, among others, as well as concerned citizens. The approach will differ from how the algae problem is being addressed in the Great Lakes, panelists said, to emphasize the work of core groups vetted by the community.