Algal Blooms Could Contaminate Drinking Water And Negatively Impact Local Economies Dependent On Tourism and Fishing  

NY Has Over 200 Reported Outbreaks Across More Than 150 NY State Bodies of Water This Year; Senator Says Feds Need To Help In Combating The Spread Of Toxic Algae 

Schumer: Seneca’s Lakes Have Been Swimming In Toxic Algae For Way Too Long 

During a visit to Standing Stone Vineyards in the Town of Lodi, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed a plan to help combat toxic algae found in Seneca County and Upstate New York waterways. Schumer said that, without intervention, the number of blue green algal outbreaks could continue to grow and contaminate drinking water for New York residents, as well as damage local economies dependent on tourism, fishing and recreation.

“We need to take action to limit and treat the spread of these toxic algal blooms which can cause frequent beach closures, loss of fish and wildlife and even human illnesses. These toxic blooms not only threaten our ecosystems and public health, but also the revenue generated by tourism and fishing upon which our Upstate economy relies,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I am urging Senate appropriators to include $1.6 billion in federal funding for our farmers and communities, so they can begin the conservation efforts necessary to reduce the runoff of chemicals into our waterways which cause these outbreaks of harmful algae. It’s a win-win way to help farmers construct improvements to their farms while preventing algae-causing runoff into our lakes and waterways. They desperately need help in combating the spread of toxic algae and the best way to do that is to try to stop the problem at its source.”

Due to a number of factors, including runoff from nearby agricultural areas, the amount of nutrients and chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus in lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water across Upstate New York has increased in recent years, causing large algal blooms to grow in the water. Climate change has also brought warmer temperatures and more spring rainfall, both of which favor the growth of algae blooms. Blue-green algal blooms in particular produce cyanotoxins, which form as the algal blooms rob oxygen from the water. In incidents reported throughout the U.S. and Upstate NY in particular, water contamination caused by these cyanotoxins has resulted in illness, beach closures and animal deaths. Schumer said these factors, as well as increased human activity near water bodies, has resulted in toxic algal blooms becoming more widespread than before.

Schumer cited recently released data from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which reveals there have been more than 200 reported blue-green algae blooms across more than 150 different bodies of water across New York State in 2016. This includes two outbreaks on Seneca Lake last month and several other outbreaks in places like Cayuga Lake and Canandaigua Lake. Schumer said these blooms could directly threaten ecosystems, tourism and public health. Therefore, Schumer is urging Senate appropriators to prioritize and allocate $1.6 billion in federal funding in the FY2017 omnibus budget bill to combat the spread of toxic algae.

Specifically, Schumer urged federal appropriators to designate this money for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which is administered by the USDA. The EQIP program provides direct financial assistance to individual farmers looking to pay for ground cover, drainage, erosion mitigation, and other projects that help prevent the erosion and runoff that cause algal blooms in Upstate NY waterways. This year, Schumer is urging federal appropriators to fully fund the EQIP program at $1.6 billion in the FY17 omnibus budget bill to combat this growing problem.

EQIP is a voluntary program and farmers must apply to USDA to be selected.  Currently in the four counties bordering Seneca Lake (Seneca, Schuyler, Yates, Ontario) the USDA has accepted 106 farms covering 52,000 acres of land into the EQIP program.  Schumer explained that while that is a good start, unfortunately, approximately one third of all farm applicants according to local USDA officials estimates are unable to be selected because EQIP was not funded enough to meet applicant demand.  That is why Schumer said he is pushing to not only fund EQIP this year, but fund it at is full $1.6 billion level.

Schumer highlighted Standing Stone Vineyards as a prime example of an Upstate NY farm – located right on Seneca Lake – that previously received EQIP funding that allowed it to successfully undertake several projects to fight against algal blooms. Specifically, Standing Stone planted cover crops to manage vineyard rows as well as reduce erosion and run off, in addition to implementing irrigation and water management systems. They also began fertilizing with mulch left over from the vineyard’s waste to reduce dependence on additional fertilizer products. They’ve also installed an Agriculture Sprayer Mixing Station to provide a safe place to prevent run off, and to prevent ground water and surface water contamination. Finally, Standing Stone installed a Fuel Containment on its premises, which consists of double-walled tanks to prevent diesel fuel leaks and contamination. Schumer said this is a perfect example of a grower located on one of New York’s prized Finger Lakes that is committed to diminishing runoff but needed to utilize these federal funds in order to make these projects a reality.

Once a farm applies and is accepted to the EQIP program, the farmer meets with USDA officials to create a customized plan of improvements that they will make over a set period of time, typically over several years and must complete the first project within 12 months. EQIP reimburses the farmer as the project improvements are completed. Depending on the specific conservation plan, farms can receive up to $300,000 in EQIP funding. With Upstate NY farms like Stone Vineyards ready to undertake these kinds of projects, Schumer said now is the time to take action before Upstate New Yorkers experience more beach closures, loss of wildlife, more instances of human exposure or even harm to local tourism and businesses that rely on the lakes, rivers and various waterways across Upstate NY for their livelihood.

Schumer was joined by Tom and Marti Macinski, Owners of Standing Stone Vineyards; Rick Weakland, Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association President-Elect; Greg Kist, State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS); Ronald Vanacore, Resource Conservationist for Seneca County NRCS; and Skip Jensen-, New York Farm Bureau Field Representative; as well as numerous local elected officials.

Tom Macinski, Co-owner of Standing Stone Vineyards said, “Last month toxic blue-green algae was found in Seneca Lake just south of us, underscoring the need to expand efforts like EQIP.  With EQIP we were able to sit down with USDA officials and together come up with a plan tailored to our farm and topography to reduce any potential algae-causing water runoff into Seneca Lake. I appreciate Senator Schumer’s efforts because the more farmers that are able to take advantage of EQIP the better we can save our lakes and waterways from this algae toxin threat.”

A copy of Schumer’s letter to Senate appropriators appears below:

Dear Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Mikulski: 

As your committee begins to work on its fiscal year (FY) 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, I write to request that you support a robust funding level of $1.6 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program. This important voluntary conservation program not only helps protect our environment, but ensures that our farmers are able to continue to work while doing so. 

EQIP is a completely voluntary program that allows the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help our nation’s farmers by providing financial and technical assistance in regards to planning and implementing conservation plans that protect our natural resources, including our water, plants, animals, and air. This critical program has become even more important considering the increasing prevalence of cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue green algae, that is being found in our lakes, ponds, and streams. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), this year alone there have been over 200 reported cases of suspicious or confirmed Harmful Algal Blooms containing cyanobacteria across the state. In cases when cyanobacteria is present in higher quantities, it can create a variety of problems including producing unpleasant smells, depleting the water of valuable oxygen and nutrients, and worst of all, producing toxins that are harmful to human and animal health. This crucial funding can help prevent increased cases of blue green algal blooms in future years, which will help people enjoy safe and clean water every summer.

In the FY16 omnibus budget bill, the EQIP program account was extremely underfunded, leaving inadequate resources available to meet the demand for this very helpful voluntary resource that USDA uses to help farmers and the environment alike. This is why I urge you to support fully funding the EQIP program at $1.6 billion in the FY17 omnibus budget bill.

Again, I thank you for your work in fighting the spread of blue green algal blooms and protecting our bodies of water and beaches. I appreciate your consideration of this request and look forward to working with you to support this important voluntary conservation program.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator


Previous Article Next Article