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2021 environment in review: Another year of harmful algal blooms

WSKG is taking a look back at some of the most pressing environmental issues from the last 12 months and how they may move forward in 2022.

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — Cayuga Lake has struggled with harmful algal blooms or HABs in recent years, but in 2021 unseasonably warm temperatures and heavy rainfall may have extended their prevalence late into the year.

Monitoring groups noticed more HABs in 2021 across multiple lakes, with some even popping up as late as October.

Hillary Lambert, Executive Director of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, told WSKG that heavy rainfall throughout the year had likely been a major factor in the blooms’ formation.

"That probably contributed to the blooms in that the water flowing over the land brought more nutrients from farm fields, nitrogen and phosphorus and from human septic systems and other sources into the lake,” Lambert said. “And with the warm weather, the blooms just gobbled that up and we had the late season, rather dangerous situation."

She said she’s optimistic that mitigation efforts are moving forward going into 2022. Lambert said the counties surrounding Cayuga Lake are actively working with farmers to mitigate phosphorus and nitrogen runoff.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.