TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) have been a regular sight in Tompkins County, primarily popping up in Cayuga Lake when the heat and humidity make their annual presence known in mid- to late-summer.

In preparation, the county has prepared a draft HAB strategy plan and is seeking comment from the community about its effectiveness and how it can be approved before this HABs season. The period for comment is open until May 28, at which time the draft will be finalized and sent to the Tompkins County Legislature and the Tompkins County Water Resources Council for review.

The strategy outlines four main areas to address, including agriculture, ditch management, stream buffers and wetlands and collaboration. Some of the action items would be implemented this year, while others would be ongoing annually or wait until 2022 to be enacted. A wide range of organizations and groups are involved in the process, including from the county, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, New York State Water Resources Institute and organizations dedicated to Cayuga Lake preservation.

The agriculture portion focuses on education and incentivizing farmers to employ best management practices on their farms, including a conservation loan bank account program that would cover the cost of best management practices for farmers and be reimbursed through state grant opportunities. It also emphasizes publicly acknowledging and thanking farmers who do convert to best management practices.

Beyond that, the ditch management strategies include a uniform approach for each municipality to adopt regarding roadside ditch management and, optimistically, to avoid sediment erosion into water. The Town of Ulysses will serve as a pilot municipality where existing ditches will be assessed and flow reduction and erosion prevention strategies will be tested, particularly those ditches on “steep slopes.”

Additionally, and more technically, the stream buffer section focuses on more education for landowners and government officials on the benefits of stream buffering and the sediment filtration that streams provide. That will include on-the-ground training sessions for more nuanced aspects of stream restoration and buffer facilitation. Plus, updates will be provided to the Tompkins County Council of Governments and the legislature on collaborative research and monitoring of Cayuga Lake and its watershed as part of the collaboration element.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at