AUBURN — With no definite timeline, but still moving forward, the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council is hoping to update the rules and regulations of the watershed. 

On the table so far is a draft plan outlining the potential makeup of a steering committee, stakeholder groups and a public outreach strategy. Steve Lynch, director of the Cayuga County Planning and Economic Development Department, said the idea is to have the plan approved by the county Legislature chairman and sent to the state Department of Health Division of Water Resources for feedback. 

"'We'd like your technical assistance,'" Lynch said, of what he proposes the chairman to ask the state. "'We'd like you to let us know, how does this public participation plan look like? Are we on the right road here to come to take this on.'"

"Make no mistake that other communities have gone through this process and spent three and four years going through this process, and they are not revising their watershed rules and regulations," Lynch added at the council's meeting on Feb. 21.

By getting the state's input into the public participation process early, Lynch hopes the county will avoid that.

The Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency has also discussed updating rules and regulations following this past summer's significant outbreak of cyanobacteria blooms. Liver toxins from those dying blooms were detected in the drinking water of more than 45,000 Cayuga County residents, though at low levels. Local leaders are looking to make the rules and regulations of the watershed similar to Skaneateles Lake, which has strict guidelines due to the city of Syracuse's drinking water not going through a filtration system.

The planning department is not expecting to be the spearhead of this effort, Lynch added, but is helping the county health department and the the town of Owasco and city of Auburn with the best strategy for getting the public's feedback. They are especially hoping to engage key stakeholder groups including the agriculture and farming community, lake shore owners and lake advocates, elected officials and the business and commercial contracting community.

That will start with creating a steering committee, which the planning department has suggested be made up of two county legislators and one representative each from the council, the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, the agriculture and farming community, the county board of health, the town of Owasco and the city of Auburn. That committee will be responsible for attending the multiple public meetings expected to be held throughout the county, and bring feedback to the county health department, Owasco and Auburn.

Once the steering committee is set up and any edits to the outreach plan are made, Lynch envisions holding an introductory public meeting to educate people on what the current rules and regulations are. 

"We have to go out and say, 'Here's what it is,'" Lynch said. "'Here's the problems we're having in the watershed. The results are the algae blooms,' and so on and so forth."

In the draft outreach plan, the planning department outlines six public information meetings, four stakeholder meetings and multiple steering committee meetings. Following the majority of those meetings, the department has proposed a circulation of the new drafted rules and regulations to be open for a public comment period. Once those comments are received and any revisions are made, the document will be finalized and sent to the state Department of Health for its approval.

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