(WENY) -- With reports confirming that harmful algal blooms (HABs) continue to damage the health and vitality of lakes across upstate New York, and threaten some drinking water sources, Senator Chuck Schumer is launching a major effort to curb their rampancy.

While most algae are critical components of healthy freshwater ecosystems, uncontrolled HABs can produce fatal toxins if ingested by people, aquatic life, and even pets like cats and dogs.

The latest data from the State Department of Environmental Conservation reveals 1,122 HABs this year, including 95 just in the Southern Tier.

In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has operated pilot programs, designed to better combat and understand the spread of HABs:

  • Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment & Transformation System (HABITATS) program. By forcing the algae to the surface with oxygen bubbles, the HABITATS program allows researchers to skim the algae off the water, collect it, and even recycle the waste into energy;
  • The Operational Strategies for HAB Management in Inland Reservoirs program is developing guidance, as not all water bodies can be treated the same, and reservoirs present unique challenges. This pilot program aims to effectively utilize reservoir operational activities to address HABs, such as flushing or holding water;
  • The Evaluation of a Peroxide-based Algaecide for HAB Control in Lake Okeechobee is another HAB-combatting strategy. According to the USACE, this will ultimately yield best management practices for using peroxide-based chemicals to eliminate HABs;
  • The Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics program studies the drivers and life cycle patterns of HAB events. They completed their first round of this program in Lake Okeechobee, Florida this year; and
  • The Harmful Algal Bloom Indicator Estimation in Small-inland Water bodies: Remote Sensing-based Tools to Assist USACE Water Quality Monitoring program. Schumer explained that different from the previous program, this is focused on developing early detection methods that are based on water quality indicators. If successful, this could allow communities to respond to HABs in the very early stages, decreasing the danger they present to communities.

Under the Aquatic Plant Control Research Program (APCRP), USACE operates two pilot programs dedicated to predicting HAB outbreaks and controlling them:

  • The Strategies for Early Detection of HABs and Predicting Toxic Release: Linking Hyperspectral Imaging to Molecular Techniques program is utilizing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) cameras and water quality indicators together to predict both the emergence of HABs and the toxicity of the outbreaks; and
  • The Small Regulatory Ribonucleic Acids (srRNAs) for HAB Control program is working to stop algae’s growth by inhibiting its ability to absorb nutrients, or photosynthesize, through an innovative gene silencing approach. If successful, this could stop outbreaks in their tracks, or from ever occurring.

Schumer wants to see these programs implemented in the Empire State.