Phosphorus Levels in Seneca Lake Streams on the Rise

Posted in: United States Water News, US Water News, Water Conservation, Water Contamination
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Article courtesy of David L. Shaw | November 5, 2014 | Finger Lake Times | Shared as educational material

GENEVA — The levels of phosphorus in three streams that flow into Seneca Lake exceed recommended state Department of Environmental Conservation levels. That’s the conclusion of the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association’s stream-monitoring program, which was conducted in partnership with the Community Science Institute of Ithaca.

In a statement issued this week, Pure Waters said Catherine Creek in Schuyler County, Big Stream in Chemung County and Reeder Creek in Seneca County exceeded the phosphorus and bacterial contamination levels recommended by the DEC for good water quality.

“Our results should concern everyone who lives, works or plays on and in the lake or gets drinking water from the lake,” Pure Waters president Mary Anne Kowalski said in the statement.

In all three tributaries, DEC guidance levels of 0.02 milligrams per liter of phosphorus were exceeded. Kowalski attributed the increase in algae blooms and weed growth along the Seneca Lake shoreline to those findings.

“We have noticed recent reports of algae blooms and seaweed near the outlets of these streams,” Pure Waters stream-monitoring coordinator Edwin Przybylowicz reported.

Unless controlled, the high phosphorus levels will result in the eutrophication of the lake, Pure Waters officials said.

The results confirm those first uncovered by Hobart and William Smith Colleges professor John Halfman in his 2011 Seneca Lake water quality report. Halfman’s data showed the phosphorus content in Seneca Lake was increasing annually.

Once phosphorus gets into the lake, there are no natural processes to remove it, Halfman noted. It leaves only by flowing out of the lake through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal.

“Minimizing the input of phosphorus into the lake is very important and needs to be the first priority of those concerned with the quality of Seneca Lake,” Kowalski said.

The bacterial contamination measured in the streams also could impact recreational activities like swimming or boating.

Bacteria levels are reduced as the streams get diluted in the lake water, but it is still important to identify and mitigate the point sources of bacteria into the streams, Pure Waters said.

Pure Waters plans to expand its stream-monitoring program in 2015 to:

• Include additional streams, with Keuka Outlet and Hector Falls Creek given serious consideration to be added to the list.

• Increase the sampling sites in the three streams to specifically identify the source of phosphate and bacterial pollution.

• Monitor the lake and establish current baselines for various pollutants in the lake.

To expand this project, Pure Waters is mounting a fundraising campaign. More information on how to support stream monitoring can be found at www.seneca

Grants from the Tripp Foundation and Freshwater Future, along with the support of Pure Waters members, funded the pilot stream-monitoring program.

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