As watershed residents, our collective actions shape the future of Owasco Lake. Beyond anthropogenic influences, the landscape is also subject to the whims of weather. Ideally, the community’s relationship with the watershed ought to be synergistic, but working to achieve this goal across 208 square miles can be complex. The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection and Protection Division recognizes that in order to protect Owasco Lake, it is imperative for the local community to remain informed about how to make lake-friendly decisions year-round. To achieve our unified goal of improving water quality, it must be realized that the actions of watershed residents will be exaggerated by weather. Fortunately, the local community is becoming increasingly aware of the impacts that severe weather can have on land disturbances within the Owasco Lake watershed.
Generally, winter conditions freeze construction projects, just as low temperatures freeze the ground. When the soil thaws in spring, construction activities flow back into operation, just as snow melt flows across newly disturbed soils. While it is true that spring brings life, the associated increase in temperature also brings an influx of runoff from snow melt that can carve channels in the landscape and carry sediment and nutrients to Owasco Lake. If this flow of water travels unmitigated across a construction site, various pollutants may be mobilized and discharged into surface waters, threatening to negatively impact the drinking water of over 45,000 people. In order to move toward our collective goal of maintaining the health of Owasco Lake, watershed inspectors collaborate with watershed residents and contractors to address these concerns before they can even occur.
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Watershed residents with ongoing construction activities between Nov. 15 and April 1 are routinely encouraged to reduce potential impacts from spring snow melt by "winterizing" their construction sites through the use of winter-specific erosion and sediment control practices. It is especially important to have these measures in place prior to the ground freezing, since the volume of stormwater runoff from the spring thaw can be significant. By proactively stabilizing soils and construction debris before the snow flies, the watershed community can become as flexible as the seasonal changes in our landscape and better prepare for spring runoff conditions.
Some examples of winter stabilization recommendations include:
• Installing sediment logs and/or silt fences adjacent to construction spoils or stored materials prior to the ground freezing.
• If using straw mulch alone for temporary stabilization, applying it at double the standard rate of 2 tons per acre (making the winter application rate 4 tons per acre).
• Installing double rows of silt fences or sediment logs (staked through the center of the log) for disturbed areas that drain to, and exist within 100 feet of, a waterbody.
• Installing sediment logs rather than silt fences for shoreline construction sites. Shoreline winds can shred silt fences, leading to increased maintenance needs that can prove difficult and expensive in the winter months.
Preventing the negative water quality impacts of stormwater runoff can be challenging. However, watershed inspectors recognize the efforts that landowners and contractors have made to achieve the shared objective of protecting Owasco Lake, and will continue to work with the community to document construction site stabilization improvements. The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection and Protection Division recently mailed winterization recommendations to landowners that are likely to be carrying their land-disturbing activities into the new year, and have observed numerous enhancements to soil stabilization in response. These landowners serve as an example to all who seek to maintain the health of the watershed. Erosion and sediment control planning is a critical step to protecting Owasco Lake for future generations. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Standards and Specifications for Erosion and Sediment Control (“Blue Book”) has a subsection dedicated to winter stabilization, and is an excellent resource for guiding implementation efforts. Those who are in further need of winter recommendations or detailed assistance are encouraged to reach out to the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection and Protection Division, or to their county’s Soil and Water Conservation District.
Ally Berry is lead watershed inspector with the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection and Protection Division. For more information, visit owascoinspection.com.