Toxic algae found at Chautauqua Lake

BEMUS POINT, N.Y. (WIVB) – A blue-green algae, which contains bacteria that can be harmful to humans and pets, is blooming in Chautauqua Lake.

As swimmers and boaters enjoy Fourth of July weekend on Chautauqua Lake, most are unaware of the toxic algae bloom discovered earlier in the week. Algae blooms are no stranger to the popular tourist destination.

“I haven’t seen any this year, but the last two years we saw it,” said Mark Occhionero, who brought his family to the lake from Cleveland, Ohio.

Algae is as much a part of summer as boating and swimming, and local officials are ever-mindful, monitoring blooms that appear as “green slime” on the surface.

“Lake conditions, right now, especially earlier in the year, cooler temperatures, good wind conditions, plenty of rain, really inhibit algae blooms,” explained Chautauqua County Executive Vincent W. Horrigan, who believes the long frigid winter might be the reason local officials have not found any algae blooms so far this summer.

In years past, the growth of blue-green algae blooms in the lake has forced county officials to close the beaches, and Horrigan said weather conditions can be important in the formation of algae blooms.

“It’s wind, it’s rain that churns that up, and the temperature of the water is also a big factor. So when that does happen, we unfortunately have to close the beaches. It tends to be a very temporary condition.”

The latest report by state environmental officials seems to indicate, they don’t believe the amount of blue-green algae, which contains bacteria that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and trouble breathing, has reached an alarming level, yet.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation did not identify an exact location for the algae bloom, but officials did say the sample was small and localized.

Occhionero has been bringing his family to Bemus Point for years, and said Chautauqua Lake might be as clear as he has ever seen it.

“Grilling outside, we rented a pontoon boat. The kids are going tubing, and we are all going to have a good time.”

Tom Keefe of Clarence has a cottage on the lake, which he and his family share every July. Keefe recalled the thick algae blooms last year, and said there is no comparison this year. “It is just clear and bright and blue,” he said.

Chautauqua County officials are working on a long-term fix for the algae problem. Algae thrives on phosphorus and nitrogen, which occur in untreated storm water and sewage.

Horrigan revealed they plan to increase the amount of sewers along the lake to get the phosphorus out.

“We have a project underway to complete the sewer system around the lake,” he said, adding “that is what we have to do to cut down the phosphorus, the food that the algae actually feeds on.”

In a separate national report, two Chautauqua County beaches were identified by the Natural Resources Defense Council, as having “persistent contamination problems”: Main Street Beach and Wright Park-East beach.

Both of those beaches, however, belong to the City of Dunkirk, and they are not on Chautauqua Lake. They are on Lake Erie.

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