Water Quality (HAB's, Public/Well)

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How to Find and Understand Water Quality Information and Recommendations


Surface water includes lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks. Drinking water may come from your private well or through a local public water system that filters and treats water prior to arrival at your tap.  

Water quality may be impacted by a variety of organisms and chemical pollutants, often related to human activities.

Examples of water quality issues:

  • Harmful algal blooms (HABs/blue-green algae) should be avoided, they produce toxins that can irritate the skin and cause stomach issues, like vomiting and diarrhea. During the summer months, this algae can affect local bodies of water in Yates County and surrounding areas.
  • Toxic chemicals like mercury can build up in aquatic food chains, and sometimes larger fish can have too much mercury in them for safe consumption. 
  • Well water can be very safe, but poorly maintained and tested wells may expose people to harmful chemicals or bacteria.
  • Potentially harmful bacteria may sometimes be detected (or suspected) in public water supplies, and local authorities may advise residents not to drink public water until the issue has been resolved. 

The following information is intended to help inform you and your family about water quality issues and possible steps you can take to reduce your risk of harm from contaminants. 

Surface Water Information

Harmful Algal Blooms:Keuka Lake Map
HABs occur when microscopic plants in surface water grow out of control. Blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) can cause skin irritation and gastrointestinal (stomach) symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea, if consumed by humans, pets, or livestock.

How to identify HABs:

  • Strongly colored blue-green/green floating mats or scums 
  • Spilled paint-like appearance

If you see a HAB in the area or something that looks like a HAB (often at a beach), avoid swimming, fishing, or drinking the water. Protect your pets and livestock by keeping them away from the water.




The image below shows lost beach days in counties across New York State due to HABs in 2022:

NYS Map of closed beaches 2022

Beaches on Keuka Lake reported closure for a total of 32 days during this period.

Click the following links for more information on recognizing, avoiding, and reporting blue-green algae

Visit local and surrounding watershed and lake associations for further information and recommendations: 

Mercury exposure: 

Bird catching fishAnother issue that occurs in our surface water is the accumulation of chemicals, such as mercury. Mercury released by human activity (e.g. coal burning) is often found in surface water which eventually enters aquatic food chains. Mercury transforms into higher concentration amounts as it passes through the food chain, starting from small aquatic animals leading up to larger aquatic animals and birds. This cyclic event is known as the Mercury Cycle. When humans consume large aquatic animals that are contaminated, this can result in adverse health effects on the nervous system and kidneys. Some health effects might include brain damage, behavioral and developmental problems.

Click here for more information from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on mercury.

Drinking Water Information

Private well water system Well water:  

Private wells are often used for residential purposes in Yates County. It is highly recommended that well owners keep their water safe for household use. Properly installed and maintained wells can provide high-quality water for many years. 

Because water wells utilize groundwater, they can be exposed to contamination from local runoff or chemical sources. Severe weather, flooding, or structural damage to well systems can make them temporarily unsafe to use.

Click here to visit The New York State Department of Health for more information on well water.

The New York State Department of Health recommends annual well inspection and water testing, click here to learn more about how to protect your family’s water. 



Testing by New York State-certified laboratories in the Yates County area:

R&J Laboratories

212 Sheppard Street, Penn Yan, New York 14527

(315) 536-9302

Life Science Lab – Finger Lakes

16 North Main Street, Wayland, New York 14572

(585) 213-4090


ALS Environmental

1565 Jefferson Road, Building 300, Rochester, New York 14623

(315) 288-5380

Municipal (public) drinking water:

Public water supply systems are established and maintained by local governments. They are routinely monitored for quality and contaminants. Click here for general information about New York’s public water supply. 

At the local level, water supplies are occasionally compromised by severe weather or water line breaks. If this happens in your area, your local authorities may issue a “Do Not Drink Advisory,” or “Boil Water Notice,” to protect you from potentially harmful contaminants. These notices are typically for short periods of time to allow for repairs and water treatment corrections. For Boil Water Notice FAQs, click here. 

For more information or questions, call our office at (315) 536-5160 during the business hours of 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM Monday-Friday, and a Yates County Public Health staff member will assist you.