Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council

The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council meets Tuesday at Auburn City Hall.

AUBURN — After meeting with regional leadership from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, it's clear the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council will have to get creative in finding funding for priority projects, according to its executive director.

Members of the council, as well as representatives from the city of Auburn, Cayuga County, the county Health Department, and the town of Owasco met with DEC staff earlier this month to discuss possible funding opportunities for priority projects to address harmful algal blooms, council Executive Director Adam Effler said Tuesday.

In March, the council, in conjunction with the above groups and other lake advocates like the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, finalized a list of projects they agreed were a priority for protecting Owasco Lake's water quality.

Some of the projects included funding for Auburn to purchase more land in the Owasco Flats and other sensitive areas, helping develop nutrient management plans for farms that currently lack them, and more.

Officials were hoping to receive funding for the projects from a $65 million fund announced by the state last year for 12 lakes, including Owasco Lake, that received Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plans.

Because of the specific requirements of the grants that pool of money is being awarded from, several of the priority projects don't align with the available funding sources from the state, Effler said.

While the projects will need to be adjusted slightly, Effler said it did not represent a major change, but they would have to get "creative" in terms of strategizing and if needed tailor the projects to best fit the state's requirements.

For example, some grant funding is only available to Soil and Water Conservation Districts throughout the state, so Effler said cooperation with Cayuga County's district would be crucial in trying to secure funds.

Council Chair and Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner said the meeting wasn't as productive as he'd like it to be, given the lack of a clear source of funding.

A meeting is already scheduled for council members to discuss next steps for the projects, Wagner said, including the possible strategy of lobbying state and federal officials to look at changing funding sources, if not in time for this year then at least for the next.

Wagner also said he was pleased that it was clear from the meeting that DEC regional leadership is on the council's side and ready to help.

"I think the need is there and they're on board to help us lobby," Wagner said.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin