Jim Everard teaches elementary schoolchildren about fish during conservation field days at Deauville Island on Owasco Lake in 2017.

The water quality of Owasco Lake has declined over many years. Many people do not realize that Owasco Lake is the drinking water source for over 44,000 Cayuga County residents. The town of Owasco and the city of Auburn draw water from the lake to supply their residents with clean drinking water, as well as other local municipalities that purchase water from the town of Owasco and the city of Auburn.

One significant issue for the decline in the water quality of Owasco Lake is the presence of harmful algal blooms on Owasco Lake. Samples of Owasco Lake have detected toxins every year since 2014. During that same time period, samples were taken from the water entering the treatment plants (raw water) and the treated drinking water. It was not until 2016 that toxins were detected in the drinking water provided by the city of Auburn and town of Owasco. Toxins associated with HABs can cause health effects for humans and pets if exposed. Both the city of Auburn and town of Owasco have received funding to enhance their water treatment systems in an effort to keep toxins out of the public drinking water. While maintaining a drinking water supply that is safe to drink is extremely important, it also became important for the community to look at what was causing such a decline in the water quality of Owasco Lake.

The last time the Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations were updated was 1984. The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council determined the need for a water quality initiative to be undertaken, and started to look at updating the Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations.

The project goal is to update and revise the 1984 Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations through a thoughtful and engaged public participation process resulting in effective and equitable watershed regulations that will help to improve, protect and preserve water quality within Owasco Lake and its 205-square-mile watershed for the benefit of current and future generations.

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Two public meetings have been scheduled to receive public feedback on the updated rules and regulations:

• 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, 1879 W. Genesee St. Road, Aurelius

• 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, in the auditorium of Moravia High School, 68 S. Main St., Moravia

To view the draft of the updated Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations, or if you are unavailable to attend the public meetings, you may submit comments to cayugacounty.us/776/owasco-watershed-rules-and-regulations.

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Deanna Ryan, M.S., is a senior public health educator with the Cayuga County Health Department.