Press-Republican

Environment

June 18, 2013

Volunteer monitors needed for blue-green algae

PLATTSBURGH — A lake-wide search for potential blue-green algae blooms in Lake Champlain has resumed for the summer. 

The Lake Champlain Committee is looking for volunteers in all areas of the lake to monitor for the potentially dangerous algae along the New York and Vermont shorelines.

“Last year, we started the visual monitoring program, and for our first year of training, we had a whole slew of volunteers,” said Mike Winslow, staff scientist for the Lake Champlain Committee.

More than 100 Lake Champlain residents took part in the training, submitting 468 reports over a 10-week period. 

Reports were generated from between 39 and 52 sites each week, Winslow said.

“That was great when compared to previous years, when we were testing ... a maximum of 17 sites,” he added. “This (new program) has greatly expanded our coverage area.”

UNUSABLE DATA

In past years, volunteers would collect algae samples from the lake that would then be tested to determine whether the plants were indeed blue-green algae and if it included toxic ingredients.

“The cost of analyzing samples was very high and limited our ability to expand,” Winslow said. “Also, by the time results came back, the conditions (in the lake) may have changed, and we were getting unusable data.”

With last year’s switch, volunteers learned through training sessions how to identify blue-green algae blooms and then submitted their findings to the Lake Champlain Committee’s website for distribution to the public.

“Basically, if the water looks green and scummy, we’re recommending people stay out of the water,” Winslow said of the system implemented in 2012. 

“There is a risk of more false warnings (when samples are not tested), but that’s a risk worth taking, considering the expanded coverage we have.”

Volunteers identified algae blooms in six percent of their reports last year, Winslow noted.

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