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OWLA

A harmful algal bloom in Owasco Lake in 2017. The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council has announced five priority projects it will seek funding for out of the state's $65 million funding pot for HAB Action Plans.

AUBURN — The array of agencies and groups that work to protect Owasco Lake's water quality have narrowed down five projects to lobby for funding from Albany out of a $65 million pot unveiled last summer dedicated for projects mitigating harmful algal blooms.

The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council Tuesday unveiled the five priority projects they and other lake advocacy groups have decided on out of numerous actions recommended in a state-developed plan.

Owasco Lake was one of 12 lakes across the state last summer to receive a Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan. Each plan detailed a variety of possible projects for their respective lakes, with funding coming from an accompanying $65 million fund.

However, officials were taken aback when it was announced that the funding would be released on a competitive basis, meaning it would be impossible for each lake to have every recommended project implemented.

With that in mind, Owasco Lake groups including the council, the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, the Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency, and more decided to hone in on the projects that would be most likely to receive funding while also delivering the most bang for their buck.

The projects unveiled Tuesday represent a total request of $1.83 million, that officials, included management council Chair Ed Wagner, said they will present to state representatives to lobby for funding.

The largest project asks for $562,500 from the state, with a $187,500 matching contributing. The project, to be lead by the city of Auburn, would purchase 300-400 acres of land in the Owasco Flats, on top of already-owned land, and other sensitive areas in the watershed.

For years, a county-led project in the flats has been underway to restore the area's wetlands in an effort to keep nutrient-rich sediment from flowing into the lake an contributing to HABs.

The second biggest request, $340,000 from the state with a $60,000 match, would purchase a weed harvester for the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District to use to remove aquatic weeds in the lake, which can provide nutrients to HABs when decaying.

A $300,000 request seeks to develop nutrient management plans for 25 non-CAFO farms in the county at $12,000 per plan. The state Department of Environmental Conservation requires detailed plans for CAFOs, which are usually dairy farms operating at or above a certain threshold of animals. If the request is granted, the Conservation District would develop similarly detailed plans for crop farms, which both officials and local farmers say outnumber the amount of CAFOs in the watershed.

Phosphorus, along with forms of nitrogen, is considered the primary nutrient source of the bacteria that form harmful algal blooms, and is often flushed into waterbodies while attached to eroded soil or other runoff.

With a $160,000 request and $20,000 local match, a pilot study would use iron-enhanced sand filters designed to filter and capture nutrients at locations like agricultural tile lines to determine their efficacy.

For $200,000 from the state, the council is seeking funding support for its recently hired executive director — the group's first and only full-time employee whose work largely involves coordinate efforts between different water quality groups — for three years.

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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

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