ITHACA, N.Y. — Harmful Algal Blooms have become an increasing concern in Cayuga Lake and many people who spend time on or around the lake have come to rely on local testing by the Community Science Institute to see if the water is safe. However, testing is costly. Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution Tuesday and the Park Foundation has provided an emergency grant to help fund continued testing this summer.

To keep the community informed on where these blooms are and if they’re toxic, the Ithaca-based Community Science Institute has been testing samples — that can cost $150 to $200 for one sample — and has collaborated with the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network and the Floating Classroom to set up a network of HABs Harrier volunteers to patrol the lake.

In 2017, there were 24 suspicious algal blooms in Cayuga Lake and 18 so far this year.

HABs are an overgrowth of algae in the water. They are typically identifiable because they have an appearance of spilled paint. The blooms can be toxic, so people and pets are advised to stay out of the water when a suspected bloom is spotted.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says HABs are likely triggered by a combination of water and environmental conditions that may include excess nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen, lots of sunlight, low water or low-flow conditions, calm water and warm temperatures.

The CSI lab is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and turns around results quickly and updates a public map with findings. Yellow indicates suspicious bloom, orange indicates confirmed blooms and red means confirmed with high toxins. The map is embedded below and more information is available on the CSI website. (Article continues below.)

As the resolution notes, the “rapid turnaround of test results serves to reduce uncertainty and fear on the part of the general public and to give people the information they need to evaluate the risks associated with specific suspicious blooms.”

To continue testing in August and September, CSI needs $9,150 to test about 60 more cyanobacterial samples. CSI has received a $5,000 emergency grant from the Park Foundation. And with a resolution passed Tuesday, the county will provide $4,150 from the contingent fund to cover the rest.

HABs are not an isolated problem to Cayuga Lake. They have been found in most counties in New York, including in many of the Finger Lakes, as well as across the country. Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a $65 million plan in 2017 to address issues caused by HABs. On Thursday, the 5th Annual Finger Lakes Harmful Algal Bloom Symposium will take place in Geneva.

If anyone spots what could be a HAB on Cayuga Lake, they are asked to send a picture of the bloom along with the location, date and time to

For more information about HABs, visit the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network resource page. Visit the Community Science Institute here.

Featured image: Sign posted at Taughannock Falls State Park in July about Harmful Algal Blooms. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.