The freshwater lakes of upstate New York are world-renowned for their natural beauty and outdoor recreation potential. Hundreds of communities rely on them as a source for clean drinking water, recreation, and tourism. Increasingly, blue-green algae have been forming toxic, dense, and long-lasting blooms in more of the state’s lakes. In addition to forcing beach closures due to public health concerns, these Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) have raised concerns about drinking water safety. In Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State address, the Governor directed his Water Quality Rapid Response Team to address this water-quality issue. The Governor chose to focus attention on 12 specific water bodies, the HABs12, which represent a diverse range of conditions across New York lakes. The Response Team, led by the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation, Health, and Agriculture and Markets, sought out CBI to help convene regional Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) summits to inform the development of 12 action plans to tackle this water-quality threat.
In the span of one month in spring 2018, CBI facilitated four Summits on Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in New Paltz, Syracuse, Ticonderoga, and Rochester. The summits covered a range of issues related to HABs, including but not limited to: state agencies’ roles; the occurrences, causes and sources of HABs; their possible mitigation through watershed or in-lake action; drinking water treatment; advanced monitoring, analysis, and modeling; and impacts of climate change on HAB occurrences.
CBI’s skills in designing interactive, technical workshops led to a highly-engaging set of workshops. National experts and state agencies led short presentations, which were followed by focused, small-group discussions among local and state experts and stakeholders from farm bureaus to lake associations. The discussion then expanded to the 40-60 other participants in the room. Experts and stakeholders wrestled with questions from causality and correlation among various factors and harmful algal bloom increases to challenges related to in-lake mitigation tools for such large-water bodies. CBI worked with the state agency leads to prepare for an evening, open public session that shared abbreviated information from the day-long summits. These sessions allowed participants to submit a host of questions via written comment cards to address issues ranging from state funding and commitments to how to mitigate blooms right next to your local dock. Finally, CBI prepared detailed meeting summaries of each summit along with an executive summary of the effort as a whole.
Almost 1,000 national experts, local and regional stakeholders, and state agency personnel attended the four summits. More than 2,000 members of the public viewed (via livestream) the evening events that concluded each summit to learn about blooms and hear their questions and concerns addressed by a panel of experts. The results of the summits are serving as the basis of focused action plans in the watersheds of each of the HABs12, drawing on resources from a variety of federal, state, and local programs, grants, and funds. By delving into the state of knowledge on Harmful Algal Blooms and showcasing this information for the public, CBI has helped bring effective, informed action to the forefront on this water-quality issue. The actions spurred by this process will not only improve water quality in the HABs12 lakes, but also will be used to model best practices in the 6,000 other waterbodies that dot upstate New York.