Cyanobacteria’s Worst May Comes as Report Prepared and $1M in Budget To Fight It

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Guide to what to look for in identifying cyanobacteria provided by the Department of Environmental Services


CONCORD – Cyanobacteria can produce toxins on the water that can pose a toxic threat to humans, pets, and wildlife, and last month, New Hampshire broke a record for the highest number of advisories ever recorded in May.

The problem seems to be growing in the Granite State and happening earlier in the summer.

But it comes at a time when a legislatively appointed committee is finishing a draft report on how to deal with it and included in the upcoming biennial budget is $1 million to create a mitigation loan and grant fund.

Kate Hastings, state cyanobacteria program coordinator, said the Department of Environmental Services issued six cyanobacteria advisories in May this year, which broke the previous record of five in 2010.

Last week, 10 advisories were issued warning people to stay out of certain water bodies across the state.
Previously known as “blue-green algae” cyanobacteria is naturally occurring in the state’s 1,000 lakes and ponds.

“We are certainly seeing them earlier in the summer,” said Nisa Marks, watershed coordinator for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services on Tuesday.

“We do expect an increase in reports,” this summer which could possibly be in part, due to increased public awareness but also related to weather.

These blooms or scum which look like paint spills in the water have increased in number due in part to a warming climate, Marks acknowledged.

Shorter winters with fewer ice-in days, the fact that surface water temperatures are increasing in the state and human-caused phosphorus introductions are factors.
Cyanobacteria are fed by phosphorus introduced into the water and grow with warmth and sunlight. It can actually shift its height in the water column and a bloom usually lasts about three weeks.

The draft report looks at an emphasis on nutrient reduction, improved reporting, and outreach.

Sponsored by state Rep. Rosemarie Rung, D-Merrimack, and state Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, D-Lebanon, House Bill 1066 in 2022 was overwhelmingly supported to create the 17-member Cyanobacteria Plan Advisory Committee and gave it $30,000 to create a report, “supported by scientific data” which “shall include measurable milestones,” and a state strategy to prevent the increase and eventually control cyanobacteria blooms.

“My mantra is cyanobacteria is the biggest threat to New Hampshire that no one knows about,” Rung said. One of the biggest problems is 23 municipalities draw their drinking water from lakes’ and rivers’ surface water.

Rung said Salem draws its municipal drinking from Arlington Mills Pond and Canobie Lake, switching between the two. And Arlington Mills Pond had cyanobacteria blooms for the past two years.

“This is a complex issue. There is growing evidence that cyanobacteria is linked to neurological diseases like ALS,” Rung said.

She is also concerned about people who rent vacation properties that have no idea that cyanobacteria blooms are becoming more frequent.

The committee met throughout last fall and this spring and used $15,000 of its grant to get help from UNH and the other half with the New Hampshire Lakes Association for stakeholder outreach.

A draft of the report is now in the process, Marks said, with the report due Nov. 1.
A draft report is here
One goal of the report is to look at budgetary recommendations and possible legislation as well as methods to better communicate with the recreating public.

Marks said a finding from the study includes the fact that there is little funding to support veterinary analysis of the problem, though there is anecdotal evidence that cyanobacteria has killed dogs in New Hampshire, but there is no empirical data.

Human impacts of cyanobacteria, include nausea, rash, and neurological issues but in pets and children, it can be deadly, Rung said.

Today, the state has a regularly updated cyanobacteria mapper, You can sign up to follow on Twitter a report of cyanobacteria alerts and warnings/advisories across the state.

 And you can call the state with a suspected bloom report by calling 603-848-8094.

For example, on Tuesday, there were cyanobacteria alerts for Mascoma Lake in Enfield, Lake Wentworth in Wolfeboro, Eastman Pond in Grantham and Enfield, and Lake Umbagog in Coos County and Oxford County, Maine.

And warnings (advisories) for Pine River in Wakefield, Webster Lake in Franklin, Bow Lake in Strafford, and Lake Kanasatka in Moultonbough.

Alerts are issued when there are signs that the cyanobacteria may become a problem with cell count concentrations below 70,000 counts per liter and advisories are a higher level of warning where the counts are above that threshold.
Cyanobacteria blooms can reoccur.

The draft report gives the example of Tucker Pond in Salisbury which in 2019 had a 14-day bloom in August. In 2022, it was back with a bloom that extended for 100 days, from August through November.

The impacts are not only to health but to the regional economy from tourism, property values, and disruption of drinking water systems.

Marks said any member of the public can report a bloom through the DES’s online bloom reporting form.
“Look for discoloration or unusual growth prior to recreating or letting your pets in the water. If you see something unusual, take pictures and report it. When in doubt, stay out,” she said.

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