A diligent group of Owasco Watershed Lake Association volunteers has monitored Owasco Lake for harmful algal blooms since 2016. Every week, from July into October, trained volunteers use their “eagle eyes” to detect and report HAB formations along the shoreline of the lake. When a bloom is sighted, pictures are taken and reports are completed and uploaded to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation HAB monitoring site. Property owners and those vacationing on the lake are then made aware of sighted blooms and educated on the importance to avoid contact with the water when HABs are present.

One specific zone, known as No. 31-27, in the town of Scipio, is manned by the dedicated team of Dan Kuhn and Susan Walser. These neighbors have been volunteering with the OWLA HABs monitoring program since 2016. Their zone covers over a third of a mile of shoreline and brings them in contact with neighbors and vacationers to the lake. The first HAB sighting, recalls Susan Walser, caused her to shriek; “Eeeeek, oh no, it’s here!” She then proceeded to inform those along her fire lane to know it, avoid it and to report it. So far this year, there have been none to report in zone No. 31-27. Last year, they saw many more blooms. They both agree the weather seems to have an impact. This year was drier, and the winds were predominantly from the south.

Dan’s anchor in Owasco Lake goes back 45 years. The lake has always been a place of peace, respite and tranquility for him and family. “The pressures of work just lift away when on the lake,” he said. His children and their children are learning to be stewards of this precious resource as they spend time on the lake year after year. “This is something we can do. We love being on Owasco Lake. Our children and grandchildren have cherished memories of their time on Owasco Lake. It has been here for thousands of years. We need to protect this for future generations to come,” he said.

Getting the opportunity to talk about the lake with their neighbors has been a positive way for Dan and Susan to channel their enthusiasm and inspiration to care for and protect the lake. They want to do their part to keep the lake clean and healthy. Knowing OWLA is a group of like-minded people was enough for them to volunteer year after year. The ask is simple: “We are trained to identify a HAB, we take pictures, then we report to the DEC. We enjoy boating and swimming and want to be safe.”

The OWLA HABs monitoring program is organized by volunteer Lisa Heaton. She recruits volunteers to cover 27 zones. These DEC-trained volunteers are over 95% accurate in identifying HABs. The entire lake is kept under close surveillance for potential harmful blooms. Many thanks go out to these volunteers who combine efforts, talents, insights, enthusiasm and inspiration as stewards of the lake.

Another volunteer program organized by OWLA is a biweekly water sampling of seven tributaries feeding into the lake. From May through October, volunteers sample the streams. Samples are analyzed in an Environmental Laboratory Approval Program-certified laboratory. Data collected is fed into the county’s soil and water assessment tool modeling program to project the health of the watershed. Still another citizen scientist program is the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program, where OWLA volunteers are taking samples and performing monitoring activities out on the lake during the summer months for the DEC.

During winter months, OWLA volunteers are found surveying for the hemlock woolly adelgid along ravines and feeder streams into the lake. Hemlocks are key to keeping sediment out of the lake. In the spring and fall, those trees ranked critical are professionally treated with insecticide to curtail the spread of the woolly adelgid. This is a temporary stopgap while waiting for a predator beetle recently introduced to the area to propagate and take over as a biological control.

These projects are successful due to the committed volunteers of OWLA. OWLA is recruiting interested people for 2023 activities. Do you like being outside? Do you want to be a part of something positive? We need your help to protect and preserve Owasco Lake.