In recent decades, a dramatic and unfavorable change in water quality in inland lakes, rivers, and streams has occurred, due to human related land uses. Urbanization and agricultural practices are two of the major contributors to deterioration of these local freshwater supplies through high nutrient inputs from runoff and point source pollution. These nutrient loads, primarily nitrogen and phosphorous, are causing the hypereutrophication of many local water systems and the increased occurrence of cyanobacteria algal blooms. The majority of these algal blooms have specific visual characteristics such as scumline formation and a neon blue color that is derived from the dominant pigment of freshwater cyanobacteria, phycocyanin. Due to the toxins that these blooms can produce they are often referred to as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). The production of these toxins has raised concern over their effects to both humans and wildlife. Despite the increased occurrence of HABs in freshwater systems there is little being done about monitoring these blooms and warning the public of potentially dangerous conditions that these blooms may cause.
Researchers from SUNY Brockport, SUNY ESF, the University at Buffalo, University of Vermont, Western Michigan University, NY State Sea Grant, and the University of Tennessee have teamed up to explore the process of monitoring toxic algae in freshwater systems. We are also developing and testing a tier-based response system for dealing with a toxic bloom. Brockport is specifically examining the occurrence of toxic cyanobacteria in the Lake Ontario's southern shore embayments and determine if these embayments are a source of cyanobacteria and toxins to the open lake water and to the St. Lawrence River. We have also expanded our sampling effort to the nearby Finger Lakes.