In what has been described in the past as a "pollution diet," New York state's environmental protection agency has completed the draft of a Total Maximum Daily Load plan for Cayuga Lake that calls for a 30% reduction in phosphorous.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation released the Cayuga Lake draft TMDL plan on Wednesday, the latest stage in a process that officially started in early 2017 but has roots in the lake's southern end being listed as an "imperiled water body" in 2002.
“DEC is committed to protecting Cayuga Lake and sources of drinking water statewide from pollutants that could damage long-term water quality,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a press release. “The measure proposed today to significantly reduce Cayuga watershed’s phosphorus loads will be instrumental to safeguarding the long-term health of the lake and helping prevent water quality impairments like harmful algal blooms, excessive weed growth, and turbidity. The TMDL pollution budget will be the basis for an implementation plan to cooperatively achieve pollution reduction requirements.”
The plan is now subject to a 45-day public comment period. A virtual public meeting on the draft is scheduled for April 19.
The 93-page draft TMDL says phosphorous reduction is key to improving the lake's quality, which in recent summers has been hit hard by harmful algal blooms. Environmental scientists have been studying how phosphorous gets into the lake and identifying targets for recommended best management practices to reduce the loading.
Sources of phosphorous identified included wastewater treatment plants, municipal separate storm sewer systems, agricultural runoff, septic systems and other sources.
The report includes a breakdown of phosphorous load reductions needed by source, with cultivated crop land the largest with a 42% target. Hay/pasture land is next with 40%, followed by forest land (15%), developed land (10%) and onsite septic systems (5%).
The plan calls for load reductions from just one of the wastewater treatment or storm sewer systems in the Cayuga Lake Watershed, the Freeville facility in Tompkins County, which would need a 67% phosphorous output reduction under the plan.
"For Cayuga Lake, seeking appropriate reductions in agricultural loads is key because these loads represent the dominant external loading sector and the greatest proportion of the total controllable load to the lake," the plan states.