Tompkins Co. Prepares Comments on Draft Algal Bloom Measure

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Updated: 6/29/2021 – 9:45 a.m.

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The Tompkins County Legislature’s Planning, Energy and Environmental Quality Committee approved comments directed at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan Monday. Many of those comments pointed to the proposal’s lack of specifics.

Harmful algal blooms are a regular summer occurrence, especial toward the southern end of Cayuga Lake. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/ AP)

The draft TMDL contains potential regulations to limit the amount of phosphorus running into Cayuga Lake as a way to mitigate the development of harmful algal blooms, or HABs, which have been a hinderance to recreational activities and have occasionally threatened drinking water in recent years. While HABs are naturally occurring and non-invasive, they have been especially prevalent toward the south end of Cayuga Lake, near Ithaca.

The comments drafted by the Tompkins County Office of Planning and Sustainability staff ask the DEC to provide more specifics about implementation, including who would be responsibility for carrying out best management practices, how progress would be measured, and how the projects would be funded.

“You’ll see we have a number of questions that we’ve put there and hope that DEC can make adjustments to the TMDL before they finalize it so that we can understand it a little better,” Darby Kiley, a planner in the office, said Monday.

The comments also raise concerns about a state regulation that would limit the permitted level of phosphorus that wastewater treatment facilities are able to discharge. Right now, the TMDL would require sewer plants to provide offsets for any phosphorus they discharge above the amount currently permitted.

The planning office comments point out that doing so could inadvertently cause adverse economic effects given that such mitigation measures could be costly for the sewage plants to implement.

“What happens when these wastewater treatment facilities do hit their permit limits and could they expand?” Kiley asked. “Well, if they cannot expand does that mean we will have more development being pushed into areas that do not have municipal sewer? And so what does that mean for sprawl and smart growth?”

Last month, the DEC extended the comment window on the TMDL plan until July. It’s unclear how the agency will proceed after the comment window closes.*

*The headline has been adjusted for clarity.