ITHACA, N.Y.—Another summer has brought dozens of harmful algal blooms to Cayuga Lake’s waters, signaling the continuation of a near decade-long trend. Environmental advocates hope that a renewed push for awareness can help the public and those in power understand the severity of the issue. 

Assemblymember Anna Kelles and State Senator Lea Webb, along with a dozen or so other elected officials from local municipalities, cruised around the lakefront last week with Discover Cayuga Lake educators. Lawmakers learned about current threats to the lake and other environmental factors to monitor. The event was organized to bring officials together in hopes they then spread the message to their colleagues and inspire collaborative action among local governments. 

The harmful algal blooms (HABs) were first recorded on Cayuga Lake in 2014 and typically occur between June and October. They have become more frequent since then, filling the water with a deceptive array of vivid blue and green colors caused by the algae. Algal blooms can occur for a multitude of reasons though they are typically attributed to excess phosphorus and nitrogen in the water that can come from run-off, warm temperatures, and slow-moving water. 

Cayuga Lake is primarily impacted by microcystin blooms, which can cause skin irritation and rashes and damage the liver if ingested. 

There were 88 HAB reports last year, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. This year, as of Sept. 11, there have been 47 HABs reported and confirmed on Cayuga Lake, including 19 reported in the last two weeks. 

Throughout the summer, HABs forced the closure of local swimming holes on several occasions, particularly at Taughannock Falls. During the boat tour last week, seven more HABs were reported, though not confirmed. 

“There’s been a lot of blooms this year,” said Stephanie Redmond, a steering committee member for Cayuga Lake Environmental Advocates Network (CLEAN) who also attended the event. “Especially now, over the last week when it’s been really warm out. […] With high temperatures, run-off, other stuff, it’s getting worse, unfortunately.”

Redmond has been testing Cayuga Lake temperatures using her own equipment and said temperatures are slightly higher this year. 

“One degree Celsius makes a huge difference in the ecology,” Redmond said. 

Redmond said the early September heat seen over the last two weeks could have caused the jump in HABs reports in Cayuga Lake. 

New York State Assembly member Anna Kelles speaks to the crowd, alongside Prof. Roxanne Razavi.

The DEC runs several programs with the ultimate goal of preventing and mitigating HABs. Initiatives like the Water Quality Improvement Project help local governments (as well as non-profits and water conservation districts) undertake projects aimed at enhancing water health. 

In Enfield, where Redmond is Town Supervisor, town officials have already submitted a plan to New York State for approval under the Water Quality Improvement Plan, one example of what Redmond and other organizers hope will serve as a blueprint for attendees at last week’s gathering. 

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Redmond said. “We need to bolster [the effort] any way we can, whether that is education, getting people engaged in protecting our water system. Events like that are helpful.”

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at