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Heavy rains brought on by climate change called a threat to Owasco Lake – The Citizen

Phosphorus reduction and the nutrients coming into Owasco Lake via rain were a couple of the topics discussed at an event on the health of the lake.

The annual Bob Brower Scientific Symposium, “In Plain English,” was hosted by the Owasco Watershed Lake Association and held over the videoconferencing service Zoom Saturday. The event was virtual for the second year in a row, with the theme this year focusing on the human factors impacting water quality in Owasco Lake.

“Whether you’re five miles or five feet or ten miles away from your lake or waterbody, what you do in your area of the watershed affects the water quality downstream,” Rick Nelson, a member of the association’s board of directors, said.

Dr. John Halfman, Professor of Environmental Studies at Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, gave his annual presentation of the status of the lake. Halfman, who Nelson noted has been test-sampling the lake for over 15 years, said “rainfall seems to be a great driver for water quality in the lake. It turns out that 2021, last summer, was a wet year, especially during the summer and into the fall.”

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More rain brings in more nutrients to a watershed, and more nutrients can hurt water quality. Halfman mentioned that the Owaso Lake had a “huge rainfall event” from Aug. 18-20, with the lake taking “a really big hit. It’s something that’s going to get more and more prevalent, small localized events, due to global warming.”

Factors he measured last year included discharge and samples for nutrient concentrations.

“You took at discharge flow rates, basically, it’s very typical of a normal year, much higher discharges than a dry year,” he said.

Halfman added that the overall load of total suspended sediments in 2021 was “really high.” He also talked about the importance of reducing nutrients such as phosphorus, which stimulates the growth of toxic blue-green algae, which can cause health issues for humans.

“In my mind, if you want to stop the loading of phosphorus and suspended sediments and other nutrients coming into the lake we have to somehow curtail the phosphorus coming up from (rainfall) events. Sounds simple, actually in practice, it’s probably not quite that simple,” he said. 

For his estimates of inputs and outputs for 2021, Halfman said, that one rainfall event in August added approximately 50% of the load.

“One event, 50% of the load. And it’s events like this that are in theory supposed to get worse into the future as we get into a global warming scenario,” he continued. “This, to me, is disappointing. We need to do more to curtail phosphorous inputs coming into the lake if we’re going to combat events like this that are going to become more frequent into the future.”

Halfman also talked about three strategies estimated as being able to reduce phosphorus loading by around 70%, including all farmers using nutrient management plans and restricting manure fertilizer use. He also discussed other ways to reduce the amount of phosphorus getting into runoff, such as completing and following the recommendations coming out of the Owasco Lake Nine Element Plan. 

Other presenters include Dr. Dan Kelting, director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College, who talked about the effects of road salt on waters at the Adirondacks and statewide, and CEO Dr. John Pickering and senior behavioral scientist Toneya McIntosh of Evidn, an applied behavioral science company, discussed utilizing behavioral science to protect Owasco Lake.

Seth Jensen, director of municipal utilities for the city of Auburn, spoke about water level management at Owasco Lake, and Caroline “Carri” Marschner, invasive species extension associate for the New York State Hemlock Initiative, centered on short- and long-term solutions for hemlock management in the watershed. 

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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