County's algae solution: suck it up


Ontario Beach Park has had odor problems for a long time. The culprit: the algae that forms rotting, stinky piles where the beach meets the Charlotte pier.

The muck and its odor have been a stubborn nuisance for years, despite periodic efforts to haul some of the accumulation away. Often, the hotter the day, the worse the beach smells.

But yesterday, despite temperatures close to 90 degrees, the fishy smell was subdued; it might have ranked three or four on a scale of 10. And there was a good reason: no noticeable algae pool near the pier. County-contracted crews have started construction on a project in that corner of the beach — one that they say offers a long-term way to keep the algae piles from forming. And that should mean less odor and more swimming days at the beach. 

The county is building a pump system. When the algae gets bad, county workers will use a tractor fitted with a boom and skimmer to push all of the muck into the corner where the beach and the pier meet. They are installing a suction head there, which will connect to a pump and a pipe through the middle of the Charlotte pier. Long story short: the system will suck the algae out of the corner and pump it over into the Genesee River. The flow of the river will disperse the algae farther out in the lake.

The project is being funded through a $400,000 grant from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, though the county will be responsible for yearly operating costs. The system should be up and running by the middle of next month. 

A press release from the county says that the US Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the pier, recommended the boom-and-skimmer approach in 2011. At a press conference yesterday, deputy county parks director Dave Rinaldo said that the US Army Corps of Engineer acknowledges that the algae problem wouldn't exist if not for the pier.

County Executive Maggie Brooks said at yesterday's press conference similar approaches have worked in other parts of the state.

"We know this is a solution that will work," she said.

And the project is important to the city's efforts to redevelop the area around the Port of Rochester, Brooks said. It's not enough to have nice buildings and a new marina, she said. The people living in and visiting the area will want "a certain quality to the environment," she said.

But the project treats the symptom, and not the underlying problem. Researchers have found that Lake Ontario has algae problems in its near-shore waters because of pollution from nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. The pollutants come from several sources within the lake's watersheds, such as the fertilizer that runs off from crop fields during heavy rains. They also come from smaller municipal sewage treatment plants, which are held to different legal discharge standards than larger facilities, such as the Monroe County's Van Lare treatment plant.