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DEC announces start of 'NYHABS' online notification & reporting system for harmful algal blooms


Tue, May 28th 2024 12:55 pm

Interactive map displays bloom locations; DEC encourages New Yorkers to ‘Know it, Avoid it, Report it’

Submitted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Interim Commissioner Sean Mahar and State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Dr. James McDonald on Friday reminded New Yorkers to learn about and be aware of harmful algal blooms, or "HABs," as the 2024 HABs notification season starts. DEC's New York harmful algal bloom system (NYHABS) is now active, providing New Yorkers, including trained citizens, to send reports of HABs to DEC electronically via a simple user- and mobile phone-friendly form.

“As New York experiences warming temperatures, DEC is working closely with the state Department of Health and our local partners to investigate harmful algal blooms and make significant investments to prevent excess nutrients and other contaminants from negatively affecting water quality,” Mahar said. “DEC’s updated map and reporting system allows for more effective monitoring of potential threats to the health or recreational use of waterbodies, and we encourage New Yorkers to be on the lookout for HABs and report any sightings.”

DEC and DOH evaluates HABs reports and, once confirmed, reports are posted to the NYHABS page. The system features an interactive map of current and archived bloom locations to help keep New Yorkers informed about potential HABs. With resources such as the online HABs map and reporting system, New York continues to be a national leader in supporting initiatives to address HABs across the state and to ensure effective communication to the public. DEC works with DOH, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), and other state and local partners in leading the most comprehensive HABs monitoring and reporting program in the nation. In cooperation with its partners, DEC monitors hundreds of waterbodies annually and works with DOH and OPRHP to ensure the public and environment are protected.

McDonald said, “Exposure to harmful algae blooms can cause health effects in people and animals, including pets, when water with blooms is touched, swallowed, or when airborne droplets are inhaled. New York state is aggressively proactive in monitoring and combatting these blooms to protect public health, and this new map and reporting system will allow New Yorkers to better ‘Know it, Avoid it, and Report it.’”

While cyanobacteria are naturally occurring in the environment, certain conditions lead to accumulations that become HABs. Blooms are likely triggered by a combination of factors that include excess nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, lots of sunlight, low-water or low-flow conditions, calm water, and warm temperatures. HAB occurrence and reporting typically increase throughout the season with the most reports received during the warmest months of August and September. Regardless of the presence of toxins, HABs can pose a risk to public health. 

When it comes to HABs, DEC encourages New Yorkers to “Know It, Avoid It, Report It.” 

•KNOW IT – HABs vary in appearance from scattered green dots in the water, to long, linear green streaks, pea soup or spilled green paint, to blue-green or white coloration.

•AVOID IT – People, pets and livestock should avoid contact with water that is discolored or has algal scums on the surface.

•REPORT IT – If members of the public suspect a HAB, report it through the NYHABs online reporting form available on DEC's website. Symptoms or health concerns related to HABs should be reported to DOH at [email protected].

For more information about HABs, including bloom notifications, which are updated daily through fall, visit DEC’s harmful algal blooms webpage. The HAB program guide, which includes information and links to resources regarding bloom prevention, management, and control, can also be downloaded from the DEC website. Visit DOH's website for DOH’s public health information.

DEC water quality monitoring programs such as the lake classification and inventory program conduct HAB monitoring statewide to complement data and information generated by NYHABS. These programs carry out monitoring surveys that generate datasets to characterize statewide conditions. These monitoring strategies are well established, recommended, and utilized by DEC’s federal partners such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and help identify occurrences of HABs that inform statewide HAB trends analyses. Surface water quality data generated by DEC is reviewed according to standard quality assurance procedures and made publicly available through the Division of Water Monitoring Portal. These data, along with applied research efforts, provide insight into management of HABs and water quality issues across New York. DEC’s harmful algal blooms webpage provides access to these research efforts targeting management of HABs in addition to information on understanding HABs, potential health risks, and efforts to develop plans to reduce nutrients as the main controllable factor driving HABs. Additionally, DEC published its HABs research guide to inform statewide research priorities.

Using the most up-to-date research on controllable causes, DEC established a holistic approach to managing and reducing HABs in the state. DEC’s approach includes:

√ Deliberate clean water planning to improve nutrient-reduction efforts;

√ Funding to implement nutrient reduction;

Applied research on HABs; and

√ Short-term HAB mitigation efforts.

Combining these long- and short-term strategies, along with advancing research and understanding of HABs, provides a strong foundation for HAB reduction and management in New York state.

To date, New York has awarded more than $428 million in grants designed to reduce the frequency of algal blooms across the state by targeting phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, controllable factors that can contribute to the occurrence of HABs, and more than $14 million to research and development, pilot projects, and advanced HABs monitoring.

As directed in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2024 State of the State initiatives to protect clean water, DEC is currently developing guidance values for phosphorus to reduce the frequency of HABs that negatively impact drinking water quality and access to swimming and recreation in New York’s waters.

In addition, earlier this year, Hochul announced 2023 grant awards totaling $56 million to 47 planning and implementation projects aimed at nutrient reduction to help reduce the occurrence of HABs through the water quality improvement project (WQIP) program and Non-Agricultural Nonpoint Source Planning and MS4 Mapping Grant (NPG). For a full list of 2023 awarded projects, click this link. Grant project types that target reduction of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution include wastewater treatment, non-agricultural nonpoint abatement and control, and land acquisition for source water protection. These grants are now open for 2024 applications as part of the recently announced consolidated funding application (CFA). At least $215 million in funding is available through WQIP and up to $3 million in funding is available through NPG.

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