ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Parts of New York, including the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes, are under a flash flood advisory tonight and Thursday due to Tropical Storm Fred.
In addition to flash flooding, the storm could create the ideal conditions for blooms of E. coli and a type of toxic algae called cyanobacteria.
Nate Launer helps monitor water quality in the Finger Lakes for the Community Science Institute. He said there was a lot of bacteria in the Cayuga Lake watershed after July’s heavy rainfall.
“We had a lot of big storms, a lot of rain during July,” Launer said. “And so that could have caused nutrients to essentially enter the lake and help facilitate these blooms.”
Floodwater often carries dirt and silt, which gives it the characteristic brown, cloudy color. But along with that silt, Launer said storm water samples have often shown elevated counts of E. coli bacteria.
Volunteers with the Community Science Institute were out Wednesday morning, collecting stormwater samples throughout the Cayuga Lake watershed. Launer said he would not be surprised to see elevated levels of E. coli in that water as the storm continues to roll in.
In addition to E. coli, the bacteria that causes harmful algal blooms can also proliferate in lakes and other bodies of water after a storm.
Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilized soil can wash into waterways after a flood. That nutrient rich runoff coupled with warm weather in the summer can feed big algal blooms that can harm humans and animals who come in contact with it.
Launer said common symptoms include rashes or eye irritation. He added the algae can have more serious effects, too.
“If cyanobacteria is ingested, microcystin, for instance, the toxin that we test for here at Community Science Institute lab, is a liver toxin,” Launer explained.
Launer said it is often dogs or other animals who drink the lake water, rather than humans. He encouraged people to know the signs of an algal bloom if they plan on visiting lakes or creeks in the area this weekend.
“The water will have like a kind of pea green, like a spilled paint appearance,” Launer said. “And it’s nearly always kind of bright green, or even blue green in coloration.”
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) asks people to report suspected toxic algal blooms.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) maintains a map of all confirmed harmful algal blooms across the state.