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Albany's backup reservoir experiences algae bloom


WESTERLO — It's not the first time that Basic Creek Reservoir has experienced an algae bloom, marked by a gooey green-blue tint to the water in the city of Albany's backup water source.

Environmentalists say the bloom is a sign of foot-dragging by the state in creating buffers such as wetlands or catchments to protect the state's water sources.

"This is a longstanding problem that New York has failed to resolve," said Walter Hang, founder of Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca organization that tracks pollution across the state.

“Everyone is trying to play catchup,” he added during a press conference Wednesday at the State Capitol.

New York has 219 bodies of water that are known to undergo algae blooms, but few have been addressed despite laws that are supposed to protect the surrounding watersheds.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Sean Mahar said the agency is working on the problem "water body by water body every day.”

The blue-green coloration is actually due to the proliferation of cyanobacteria, which proliferate when there are excess nutrients, including phosphorus, in the water.

In addition to blocking sunlight from reaching other plants and fish, a surface bloom can release cyanotoxins that can be harmful to the skin and can lead to neurological problems if a person ingests too much.

City of Albany Water Commissioner Joe Coffey stressed that people shouldn’t be alarmed at the Basic Creek bloom, since that reservoir is a backup facility to the main Alcove reservoir.

Basic Creek is tapped when Alcove’s water level drops, typically during winter when algae blooms are much less of a problem.

Phosphorus is a component of fertilizers used on residential lawns and farms, such as those surrounding Basic Creek.

The Alcove reservoir, however, is buffered by forest land and is relatively protected against too much phosphorus runoff.

Coffey added that the city is working with the Nature Conservancy to ensure that the woodlands around Alcove stay intact in order to maintain a buffer.

That hasn’t been the case in other areas such as Owasco Lake, which supplies water to the Cayuga County city of Auburn. City officials came close to shutting down its water system in 2016 due to a large bloom in the lake, said Hang.

While charcoal can remove the toxins, that’s a difficult task for large bodies of water, said Jacqueline Lendrum, director of DEC's Bureau of Water Assessment and Management.

The blooms will typically dissolve with cooler weather, Lendrum said. But she added that it’s not even clear what causes some them.

“Some of the blooms we’re seeing now are causing researchers to scratch their heads,” she said.