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OWLA: A visitor's impression of Owasco Lake Day

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2017 Owasco Lake Day

People line up for a pontoon boat tour during the Owasco Lake Day Festival at Emerson Park in 2017.

On a beautiful August afternoon, five pontoon boats gave free 3-mile rides for five hours during OWLA’s Lake Day festival Aug. 6. Paddle boards, kayaks and boats sailed in silhouette against the water’s sparkle. I stood on line 15 minutes to have a boat ride, joining other eager passengers. Young families, senior citizens, a church youth group and hundreds of citizens enjoyed a Lake Day cruise! Each boat was equipped with life jackets for children, a driver and a volunteer who talked about the lake’s condition, harmful algae blooms and what we as citizens of the lake can do to protect Owasco Lake. For many, it was their first time on the lake, and their only opportunity to have a boat ride. Some riders were surprised to learn that Owasco Lake is the source of their drinking water. In fact, 45,000 people drink Owasco Lake’s delicious water. They were also informed about the absolute need to curb the flow of nutrients from the watershed into the lake to preserve water quality.

Centro buses provided free rides from Auburn to Owasco Lake. About 36 attendees took the bus there and back home again. High school students doing community service wowed the younger children with their bright spirits and enthusiasm. Student volunteers helped prepare children for the boat rides, tie the boats to the dock, paint faces and bring vitality to everything they touched.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco stopped by to support OWLA and check out the music. The funding for musicians was provided by the senator’s Music in Cayuga County grant, which is distributed by Auburn Public Theater. State Sen. Pam Helming was also in attendance, sharing her interest in and familiarity with the problem of harmful algal blooms in the Finger Lakes. The senators saw and heard a gorgeous day in a park teeming with activity!

A calf, who had achieved one day of life so far, spent his second day of life at Owasco Lake Day! The little guy soaked up the adoration of everyone present, and represented the farmers who are stewards of thousands of acres in Owasco Lake’s 200-square-mile watershed.

Hot dogs, giant pickles and other goodies furnished by Boy Scouts were in such demand that they had to resupply. The Scouts have supported Lake Day for its entire 10-year history, and were thrilled with their sales for the day.

Intimate knowledge of fish diet preferences was shared by master fly fisher Bill Hall. Bill provided lessons in the art of fly-tying and fly-casting. The color and type of the insect created, and the delicate surface water dance the fly performs in the hands of a skilled fly fisher, cause fish to salivate! Other organizations represented at Owasco Lake Day shared their work and water quality research, and representatives of Seymour Library interviewed citizens to collect personal oral histories of lake life.

OWLA T-shirts were a big fashion statement at the festival, and are available in stunning colors. They feature a digital image of the lake created by Nick Colas, Cayuga County’s geographic information system guru. OWLA T-shirts, the brainchild of Peter Caplan, will be available at TomatoFest on Sept. 9.

Channel 9 TV interviewed Bob Brower, OWLA’s president. We watched him on TV a day or two later. He expressed concern that there is danger in becoming accustomed to beaches closing because of harmful algal blooms. If we think that this is simply the way it is, then we doom the lake by enabling its decline.

Newspaper coverage (front page of Sunday's The Citizen) captured the concerns and proactive efforts to address harmful algal blooms. One example is Auburn City Councilor Jimmy Giannettino’s work to establish a "total maximum daily load” of phosphorus, a regulation that would limit the amount of phosphorus allowed to enter the lake. OWLA is collecting data under DEC specifications to be able to establish watershed rules and regulations supported by reliable data. Given the incredible erosion of this summer’s washed-out ditches and flooded tributaries, the data is more and more important.

In March, OWLA will have another event called March to Lake Day. Scientists will present the data from this summer and the actions taken to stop erosion. Auburn Public Theater is the perfect place to sit together, hear the findings and become aware of the challenges we face. We need to prove the need for serious funding to secure stream banks, assure effective treatment of animal waste and seriously limit the flow of fertilizers and phosphorus into the lake. In short, we will need the Lake Day festival and March to Lake Day for years to come.

OWLA’s next monthly meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the Springside Inn. Join in, sign up for a committee, become a member and work to save Owasco Lake. For more information, you can email OWLA at or, or call us at (315) 283-9426.

Gilda Brower is the secretary of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association Board of Directors. For more information, visit


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