At least 260 harmful algae blooms reported over the past year were in the Rochester/Finger Lakes

Federal dollars topping $40 million was just approved for fighting harmful algae blooms (HABs) nationwide. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer this week announced efforts to make sure a portion of those funds go to battling HABs in upstate New York.

According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s HAB tracker, New York received over 1,130 HAB reports in 2019, “any of which could be doing serious damage to the natural ecosystems they exist in and the surrounding communities,” the senator said. In the Rochester/Finger Lakes region alone, at least 260 harmful algae blooms were reported.

“Now that we have secured a significant funding boost for the Army Corps’ anti-algal blooms programs, I am urging the Army Corps to make New York the top priority when expanding harmful algal blooms pilot programs in 2020, “ Schumer said.

A bipartisan spending package for 2020 provides $24 million in federal funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Aquatic Plant Control Program. It also provides an additional $16 million for the Aquatic Nuisance Research Program. Both are pilot programs designed to better combat and understand the spread of HABs in certain freshwater bodies.

Additionally, language in the spending package encourages the Army Corps of Engineers to “explore opportunities to address HABs in Upstate New York’s Great Lakes” —  Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, given the historic water levels in the region, according to Schumer.

“More must be done to control these destructive algal blooms, considering that they can produce fatal toxins if ingested by people, aquatic life and even pets like cats and dogs.” he said.

In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has operated successful pilot programs designed to better combat and understand the spread of HABs in certain freshwater lakes across the country.  One example is a program on Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

However, none of these programs are currently in place anywhere in New York.

The Army Corps of Engineers has traditionally focused on the control of larger invasive species, like Asian Carp. But that changed when the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019 was signed into law and the program’s budget was boosted from $675,000 to $3 million. Schumer highlighted how this budget increase came with language urging the Army Corps to develop better strategies for the detection, prevention, and management of HABs.