Owasco Lake

Seagulls wade in the north end of Owasco Lake in December 2015.

Owasco Watershed Lake Association is a citizen-based advocacy organization that serves as a catalyst to identify and help find solutions to water resource problems in the waters and watershed of Owasco Lake. A new challenge has risen in the past few years with the increasing number of harmful algal blooms. The blooms are correlated globally with excess nutrients, particularly very high phosphorus levels, feeding into waterways and coupled with rising water temperature. But in some waters, including Owasco Lake and other Finger Lakes, HABs are occurring in the absence of high phosphorus levels. This new challenge has been the focus of OWLA for the recent past and is presently the focus of intense volunteer efforts that include weekly shoreline surveys and three buoys in shallow and deep water. Looking to the future, OWLA will continue searching for new ways to deal with this threat, collaborating with the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program, the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council and a host of research groups and scientists.

The past several years have found OWLA actively involved in many area projects. OWLA played an important role during the design and construction of Cayuga Correctional Facility in Moravia in the 1980s. A decade later, OWLA focused on the Groton Sewage Treatment Plant, again focused on the need to remove phosphorus from the effluent before it is discharged into the Owasco Inlet. A decade after that, OWLA was again involved in the identification of a new phosphorous problem coming from a fish farm located in the southern watershed of Owasco Lake. In 2014, OWLA called public attention to a large manure spill into the lake from a farm in the watershed. This led to implementation of a new lagoon system, including several miles of pipes put into place by the owners, to reduce the chances of such an event ever happening again. It also led to extensive efforts by the Cayuga County Legislature to review and change manure handling methods throughout the county. This work is still ongoing.

Regarding present projects, OWLA is actively supporting a de-channelization project in the inlet (which accounts for about 55 percent of the surface water influx to the lake) designed by the Cayuga County Planning Department to restore the natural entrapment of phosphorus in the flatlands. At the Dutch Hollow Brook sub-watershed (20 percent of the water influx), nine projects designed by the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District to reduce phosphorus loading have been made possible with a $200,000 grant secured by OWLA and the efforts of New York state Reps. Finch, Seward and Nozzolio. These projects (beginning in 2013) are now entering final construction stages.

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OWLA worked hard with state Sen. DeFrancisco to capture an additional $600,000 from New York state in 2014 supported greatly by Sens. Seward and Nozzolio and Assemblyman Gary Finch. This funding will support phosphorus reduction efforts in the VaNess and Sucker Brook sub-basins, tributaries at the north end of the lake that are responsible for 15 percent of the surface water influx. An additional stream bank and road ditch stabilization program by the OLWIP and the CCSWCD has also started this fall, thanks to a $20,000 award to OWLA in 2016 from the Fox Toyota Group.

All of these efforts to lower the amount of phosphorus in the lake will diminish weed and algae growth, increase water clarity and also reduce the probability of the HABs now occurring in the lake. But because scientists do not know what “triggers” a HAB (harmful algal bloom), a surveillance program and related tributary testing has been ongoing during the summer months of 2015 and 2016. Securing the scientific data necessary to understand these blooms will allow public policy makers and land managers to move forward with mitigation strategy.

Education and outreach has been conducted through a cove captain initiative in which information is distributed to the lakefront properties concerning best practices. A notification system is being developed in order to update OWLA’s membership base on the lake’s condition and this new HAB problem.

The past, present and future initiatives of OWLA are made possible through the dedication of volunteers. As the membership base increases, so does the effectiveness and influence of the organization. Visit OWLA at owla.org and owascolake.org for more detailed information and membership forms. Always visit  owascoinspection.org for the most current information about the location of HABs in Owasco Lake.

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Linda Vitale, Bob Brower and Ken Kudla are members of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association. For more information, visit owla.org


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