OWASCO — Some of the most blamed members of the community for water quality problems in Owasco Lake came together Thursday night to discuss the watershed's rules and regulations. 

Meeting at the Ward W. O'Hara Agricultural Museum, 10 farmers considered public comments submitted on the document that hasn't been updated since 1984. Only a couple knew the rules existed prior to Cayuga County and the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council's recent effort to update them. But many, especially large dairy farms, are under so many regulations with the state already that they expressed exasperation at what else they could do to convince the public they work to protect the water.

"We're at a Catch-22 with the public, as I see it," said Jim Greenfield, a crop farmer with land both in the Owasco and Skaneateles lake watersheds.

All seemed to agree, however, that some terms and practices in the rules were outdated. Some considered, too, that things could be gleaned from Skaneateles Lake's watershed rules and regulations.

Dirk Young, a dairy farmer with land in both the Skaneateles and Owasco lake watersheds, and Greenfield, gave the stakeholder group an overview of how both rules and regulations effect their farming practices. 

For one thing, farmers can be exempt from Skaneateles' rules if they create what's called a whole farm plan. The advantage, Young and Greenfield said, is a planner can take into consideration the specific topography, soil and other aspects of a farm because one set of rules may not make sense for all situations.

That plan can be made for all farms from large, concentrated animal feeding operations to crop farms, and it covers everything from their nutrient management to the amount of fuel the business uses. But with so few farms in the Skaneateles Lake watershed, and a significantly smaller watershed to boot (less than half the size of Owasco's), the city of Syracuse through taxpayer funds and grants pays for those plans and their implementation.

With significantly more farms around Owasco Lake, farmers estimated that plans and implementation could wrack up "lots of zeroes" for Cayuga County. It wouldn't be too bad for concentrated animal feeding operations, Young said, because a lot of what those farms already do what would be included. But it could be a significant financial burden for smaller farms and crop farms to pay for the plans and practices they may prescribe. 

Another aspect of Skaneateles's rules the group seemed to like was how it references other sets of regulations farmers already work under. It keeps the rules and regulations consistent and timely, too, by relying on another agency's regulations to be kept up to date.

Greenfield warned the group, however, that "you can't compare apples to oranges."

"Skaneateles has got one of the smallest, I think the smallest runoff in the lake and Owasco's got the biggest," he said. "Just because you adopted the Skaneatels rules and regulations doesn't mean it's going to come out Skaneateles water."

Jim Sierzenga, a crop farmer and another member of the steering committee, said there are other things to consider including how Skaneateles Lake has no municipal sewage discharge. Erosion from stream banks and ditches, especially after heavy rains, hasn't helped either in Owasco Lake, he added.

Other stakeholder groups will be meeting in the coming months including elected officials, highway departments and contractors, lake residents and advocacy groups. The farming stakeholder group agreed to meet again, too, but a date and time has yet to be determined.

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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County Government Reporter