Ecology + Design

Protecting Westchester’s Lakes, Ponds & Streams: How To Be a Responsible Steward

I attended the Westchester County Government’s Pond and Lake Management Workshop at the start of the month and learned about the important work of the DEC in overseeing our public water bodies. Pond and lake management is a complicated issue that impacts many facets of the environment and our lives.

You may have heard about the Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) that closed eleven Hudson Valley lakes this summer, including two in Westchester. HAB describes a dense concentration of cyanobacteria, creating a distinctive, thick, blue-green muck on the surface of lakes. Cyanobacteria can be toxic and non-toxic, posing a risk to drinking water, human health, wildlife, and affecting lake recreation activities.

HABs are symptomatic of larger ecological imbalances, most significantly, nutrient overabundance that causes eutrophication. As with most environmental issues, treatment projects vastly outweigh prevention efforts in difficulty, cost, and effectiveness.


You might remember learning this term back in EnviSci class… but here’s a refresher:

  • Eutrophication refers to an increased rate of organic carbon production, caused by increased primary productivity (plants and algae photosynthesizing).
  • It occurs in lakes after excessive inflow of nutrients, mainly phosphorus and nitrogen, which greatly boosts phytoplankton, aquatic plant, and cyanobacteria populations.
  • Just one pound of phosphorus can create 1,000 lbs of algae!
  • Eutrophication represents a huge ecological shift: only species tolerant of limited oxygen, warm temperatures, and high nutrient concentrations can survive.
  • Toxins produced by cyanobacteria can disrupt the nervous system, liver, skin, and eyes. Pets are also at risk.

Image courtesy of:

Main Types of HAB Cyanobacteria:

Microcystis Produces Microcystin toxin; can be highly toxic Forms late summer – fall
Anabaena Produces Microcystin, Anatoxin; mid-level toxicity Forms in spring & summer
Aphanizomenon Produces Anatoxin and others; low-level toxin Forms in spring & summer
Oscillatoria Produces Microcystin, Anatoxin Forms spring – fall


Three Main Toxins from HABs:


*Most common toxin in New York

Impacts liver Produced by: Microsystis, Anabaena, Oscillatoria
Anatoxins Impacts nerves; potentially fatal to dogs Produced by: Anabaena, Aphanizomenon, Oscillatoria
Lipopolysaccharides Skin irritants and allergens Produced by most cyanobacteria










Maps courtesy of NY DEC.


That’s 620 beautiful, life-giving water bodies that we must actively protect. Eutrophication management practices can take years and require precise monitoring along the way to gage effectiveness and allow for modifications in the plan of action. Current solutions include:

  • Artificial circulation
  • Dredging
  • Chemical algacides (copper)
  • Chemical inactivants
  • Fish stocking
  • Other potential solutions, such as using barley straw as a physical barrier, are not legal in New York state.


  • Stay out of the water!
  • Keep pets away from the water Contact Department of Health if there is a beach
  • Contact the Department of Environmental Conservation
  • See if the bloom has already been reported or sampled:
  • You should also be aware of the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) plaguing Westchester water bodies. Check out that presentation by Catherine McGlynn, and learn to recognize the infamous Hydrilla, Water Chestnut and more.


In 2017, we halved the number of HABs in Westchester County, the first decrease since 2012. Keep it up! Let’s avoid the costly and invasive, symptomatic solutions to HABs & AIS. Prevention is our best bet here, before HAB toxins leech into our watershed. Here are some steps you can take at the household & community level:

  1. ?Reduce water use – ease pressure on your septic tank!
  2. Repair leaky pipes
  3. Install a double flush toilet & low flow showerheads
  4. Don’t flush any trash or items down the toilet.
  5. Reduce your nutrient footprint. Eliminate synthetic lawn fertilizers – we can transform your yard from toxic to organic.
  6. Plant vegetation buffers along shorelines.
  7. Rain water harvesting & recycling back into your landscape.
  8. Fight Mud! Stormwater management on your property is essential
  9. Plant more plants for erosion control. Install a Rain Garden to absorb storm water and beautify your property.
  10. Report any suspicious sitings in your local lakes and ponds to the DEC and/or DOH.

If you need assistance with storm water drainage on your property, give us a call! (914-560-6570) We would be happy to design a beautiful and functional solution.

A huge thanks to all the wonderful presenters – Stephen J. Souza, Catherine McGlynn, Scott Kishbaugh, Jeremy Farrell – and to the DEC for organizing!

Jay Archer



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