Tag Archives: water quality

Parks Water Quality Unit: Keeping Watch on our Beaches and Waterbodies

It’s finally June, which means the Water Quality Unit at New York State Parks is out in full swing for the 2019 summer season.  Each year, staff from the Water Quality Unit coordinate water quality monitoring programs for many of the waterbodies within Park boundaries.  A substantial portion of State Parks attendance is associated with recreational water use, so it is important to ensure the beaches are operated in a manner that is both safe for patrons and that protects this valuable resource for future use. The Beach program oversees weekly bacteriological sampling at 96 sampling stations within 60 parks, provides water quality training to Park staff, works on collaborative studies with other agencies, and ensures compliance with the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) protocol.  Keep reading for an overview of each of these responsibilities!

Beach Locations

New York State Park Beaches are located across the entire state – from end to end and top to bottom; on small inland lakes, the Finger Lakes, the Great Lakes, the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers, and on the Ocean.  This link will take you to the State Parks webpage where you can search for a beach near you or one you want to visit.

Moreau
Beachgoers relax at Moreau Lake State Park

Weekly Sampling

Each guarded beach is sampled a minimum of once a week for E. coli (freshwater) or Enterococci (marine) bacteriological indicators during the swim season.  The EPA defined regulatory limit for exceedances are greater than 235 E. coli colonies per 100 ml, and greater than 104 Enterococci colonies per 100 ml.  If a sample comes back over the regulatory limit, the beach is sampled again, until a satisfactory result is reported by the certified laboratory.  State Parks defines two categories of beaches: Category 1 (must resample and may remain open), and Category 2 (must resample and close immediately).  Click here to learn more about beach categories and closure criteria.  The data collected for the beach water quality program is carefully entered into large databases that are used for report generation, data evaluation, and reporting to regulatory agencies that in turn provide funding for beach sampling.

Beach Water Quality Training and Education

The Water Quality Unit provides regional trainings to park staff on how to properly collect a water sample, when to close or re-open a beach, and how to identify specific algae. The unit also conducts sanitary surveys to identify potential pollution sources and assists staff with site-specific questions and needs.  In addition, the unit develops and/or distributes educational materials on potential waterborne illnesses and other water-related topics.

Water Quality Collaborations

The Water Quality Unit routinely collaborates with other agencies and organizations such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and colleges and universities on subjects such as E. coli predictive modeling and HAB occurrences.  State Parks collects and shares data with these agencies to help further current research.  Check out this link Cornell at Work in NYS Parks to see Professor Ruth Richardson from Cornell University at work in Buttermilk Falls State Park testing out a new technology!

SmartPhone
Staffer checks water quality data on smartphone.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Research on the occurrence of HABs is still in full bloom both in the United States and worldwide.  In past years, State Parks has seen HABs on our beloved lakes and beaches, sometimes for the first time ever noted.  While this can be a startling discovery on a beautiful morning, be secure in knowing that State Parks has in place a firm reporting and response protocol for blooms observed both at beaches and non-beaches.  State Parks follows guidance from the NYSDOH and NYSDEC in closing and re-opening beaches suffering from a HAB, and in posting signage and warning the public of an existing HAB on a State Park waterbody.

To learn what harmful algal blooms look like, click here for a link to last year’s blog on HABs and a summary of the concentrated effort being made in New York State to address HAB occurrences.

Post by Amy LaBarge, Ocean and Great Lakes Beach Water Quality Coordinator

Floating Treatment Wetlands at Rockland Lake State Park

You may have noticed something new in the water at Rockland Lake State Park.  These are floating treatment wetlands!  Read our post below to find out more about these water treatment platforms.

Why are they here? 
In recent years, harmful algal blooms have become common in Rockland Lake. These algae blooms are largely caused by an unhealthy increase in nutrients such as phosphorous in the lake.  The nutrients come from many sources nearby, including excess lawn/garden fertilizers that wash into storm ditches after a rainfall, then drain into Rockland Lake.  One culvert (inlet) with consistently high nutrient levels is located near Parking Field 5 and it was chosen as the location for a new floating treatment wetland.  The goal of adding a floating wetland to the lake is to reduce the amount of nutrients – and by extension, harmful algal blooms – in the lake.

What are they?
Floating treatment wetlands (a.k.a. floating wetlands/islands) help to bring the benefits of natural wetlands to polluted water. They filter water to improve water quality and they provide important habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Floating wetlands can come in different shapes and sizes, but in general, wetland plants are supported atop a buoyant platform, with roots exposed in the lake water below.

What do they do?
Floating treatment wetlands help to create the right balance of submerged and non-submerged wetland habitat based on each individual site’s needs. As the plants grow, they use-up excess nutrients in the water. In addition, communities of beneficial bacteria form a film around the roots, further helping to filter nutrients and pollutants. Higher/lower elevations create areas with varying oxygen levels, promoting these different biological filtering methods. The floating platform blocks sunlight, preventing the growth of algae. Lastly, fish and wildlife enjoy the new addition to their habitat.

This is the first time that floating treatment wetlands have been used in New York State Parks.  Environmental staff will determine the effectiveness of this project by monitoring water quality changes over time (e.g. harmful nutrient levels and algal blooms by the inlet as well as lake-wide).  If successful, then floating wetlands may be used to help treat stormwater pollution and improve other aquatic habitats in New York.

Post by April Brun, Gabriella Cebada Mora, and Erin Lennon.

Rockland photos by Gabriella Cebada Mora, Aissa Feldmann, Matt Brincka, and Erin Lennon.

Resources

Floating Island/Wetland images and information

US Environmental Protection Agency information on nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms:
(Website)                   (Video)

NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation information on fertilizers and how to reduce nutrient runoff:

(Website)                   (Video)

Safety, Streams & Salts

Whether you’re enjoying one of the numerous recreational opportunities of the season, or keeping warm by the cozy fire, one thing is on every New Yorker’s mind- snow! This frigid ice blanket provides more than a slick surface to ski, sled, and snowboard on; it can also create a hazard on our roadways and sidewalks. New York State, along with several other northeastern states, has historically used salt to melt any existing ice, prevent further ice from forming, and improve traction. While this method of salting has greatly improved the safety of our roadways, it has an acute impact on the environment- particularly on New York State’s reputable freshwater lakes, ponds, and streams.

snowfall at Allegany_KH
Fresh snowfall at Allegany State Park. Photo taken by Kate Haggerty, NYSOPRHP EMB Water Quality Unit (12/1/2010).

 

Cleared roadway over stream xing_Allegany_DM
Cleared roadway over a stream crossing in Allegany State Park. Photo taken by Dan Munsell, NYSOPRHP EMB Water Quality Unit (1/08/2013).

 

During the washout period of the spring, when snow and ice melt due to increasing outdoor temperatures, residual salts (and other chemicals) wash off of roadways and into our freshwater waterways. In large amounts, these salts can be toxic to aquatic organisms by altering the chemical composition of our waters. Several of our favorite fish, amphibian, and plant species aren’t adapted to these saltier environments, which can lead to substantial changes in the aquatic food web.

Currently, innovative alternatives are being studied to reduce the amount of road salt needed in the winter. This includes the use of granular volcanic material, beet molasses, and fireplace ashes to minimize or even replace road salts. Innovative infrastructure designs, such as pervious (porous) concrete roadways have also been suggested to reduce the amount of water (and ice!) accumulated on street and sidewalk surfaces. These innovative alternatives could ultimately eliminate the need for road salt use during New York’s winters, while still providing safety for drivers and walkers alike!

In order to decrease the environmental impacts of using road salt, while also ensuring the safety of our patrons, NYS Parks adopted a policy to minimize the use of road salt in our parks. By focusing the use of road salt on high-risk park roadways, and using other materials to improve traction (such as sand and gravel), NYS Parks reduces the amount of salt needed, which has further protected our park enthusiasts and our beloved freshwater resources!

Post by Nate Kishbaugh, photos by Dan Munsell and Kate Haggerty.