by Jared Reed, Saratoga Lake Boat Steward
Recently, 5,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled into Saratoga Lake. Untreated sewage is comprised of two types of wastewater: greywater (water used for cleaning and bathing), and blackwater (containing human and animal waste, such as fecal matter). Sewage spills are not uncommon, but can greatly impact the local environment. While it may be difficult to imagine sewage being anything but ‘gross’, raw sewage is actually packed with nutrients that algae and filter-feeders thrive upon- which is not always a good thing.
An excess of nutrients, or eutrophication, in an ecosystem can lead to Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). HABs, often referred to by their color (such as Green Tide, Red Tide, or Brown Tides) are an explosive population growth of harmful bacteria. HABs are not restricted to one type of bacterium, and different bacteria often result in different color HABs (example: cyanobacteria create a’ Green Tide’, while Dinoflagellates create a ‘Red Tide’). If ingested, these bacteria can lead to serious illness, paralysis, or even death. Bacteria, being aerobic (breathing Oxygen), and anaerobic (creating their own oxygen), consume and deplete the levels of Oxygen dissolved in the water to a point where the water is not inhabitable for fish. This results in an anoxic event, which can lead to major fish kills.
Saratoga is not alone in this dilemma, as it is a frequent occurrence in large bodies of water near major cities. The western end of the Long Island Sound, and the New York City Harbor, experience yearly anoxic events, due to eutrophication (from both city runoff, and sewage spills). This is also partially due to insufficient wastewater treatment facilities, that overflow after heavy rainfall, and the mouth of the Hudson River, which carries nutrient rich runoff from upstate.
Lake George has also had many problems in recent years with sewage spills near the south end of the lake, temporarily closing several of the beaches near the Village of Lake George. A 7,000-gallon spill in 2014 was caused by line blockages, and mismanagement by local resorts, but was quickly contained and rectified. In 2009, however a 10,000-gallon spill resulted in Shepard Park Beach closing for the season.
HABs can be identified by cloudy or discolored water, and looks like spilled paint, or even pea soup. If you think you see a HAB, do NOT swim or drink the water (including any pets or children), and avoid fishing, paddling, and any watersports, and please contact your local DEC office.
Go to www.dec.ny.gov and search for ‘swimming’ to choose a safe place to swim, learn which waterbodies near you have HABs, and to sign up for text alerts about sewage spills.