AUBURN — A draft of the first update to the rules and regulations governing Owasco Lake in decades is nearly ready for public presentation, and the leaders behind the effort are preparing for the rollout process, officials said Thursday at Auburn City Council.
Last updated in 1984, the rules and regulations are an enforceable set of requirements designed to protect the lake by governing activity within its watershed. Following a surge of harmful algal blooms on the lake in 2017, a new effort to update the rules with modern science and practices kicked off.
The goal behind the rewrite project has been to improve and protect the lake's water quality through updated regulations that are "effective, equitable and enforceable" and made with an engaged public participation process, according to Cayuga County Director of Planning and Economic Development Steve Lynch Thursday at Auburn City Council.
Lynch, whose department has been one of numerous agencies leading the rewrite effort, briefed the council on the impetus for the project, how the rules have been developed and how they'll be rolled out and possibly approved.
"This is really to say: this is where we are and how it's going to roll out," Lynch said.
As the purveyors of water, the city of Auburn and town of Owasco will be responsible for approving the rules before they are then sent to the state Department of Health with a request to amend public health law as the rules suggest.
The regulations would be enforced, including the issuing of notices of violation followed up by the county Board of Health, by inspectors and specialists with the Watershed Inspection Program, although the primary objective will be compliance and correction, Lynch said.
The presentation did not go into the specifics of what the draft describes, but Lynch provided an overview of the main regulatory categories.
First and foremost, "Rule No. 1" states that "no pollutant of any kind shall be discharged, deposited, or allowed to flow into Owasco Lake, a watercourse, or stormwater conveyance such as a roadside ditch," Lynch said, verbatim from the document.
Other sections include wastewater and septic systems; storage of petroleum, chloride salts and coal; sediment generation and control, and nutrient management, with each section addressing a range of land use types such as residential, agricultural, or industrial.
"It's not just found in one thing. We tried to hit all the areas these impairments come from," Lynch said.
Having Rule No. 1 explicitly state that no pollutants are allowed, Lynch said, would mean the lake would be protected even if something wasn't specifically prohibited in the later sections.
Much of the discussion from the council revolved around questions of enforcement, with Councilor Dia Carabajal suggesting some recourse if violators ignore even Board of Health orders, and Councilor Terry Cuddy expressing concern that the city, as water purveyor, didn't have enough of a voice on the committee Watershed Specialist Drew Snell reports to.
Cuddy also reiterated a frequent request for the state to approve a Total Maximum Daily Load Plan for Owasco Lake, a strict type of enforcement under the federal Clean Water Act, saying it had the kind of force behind it the HAB problem needs.
"We really need the state to see this as the crisis that it is," Cuddy said.
The question of funding for the Watershed Inspection Program was also a point of discussion, with both the president-elect of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association and the new and first executive director of the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council saying the office will need additional staff to handle all the additional work the new rules will require.
"I think that's an impossible job to do to the level of supervision we need," OWLA President-Elect Julie Lockhart said.
From here, the draft regulations will presented at separate stakeholder meetings for both the lakeshore/lake association community and agriculture and farming communities April 8 and April 9 at the Ward W. O'Hara Agricultural Museum.
General public meetings will follow in May. Project staff will then summarize and assess public feedback before presenting a summary of feedback and a final draft to Auburn and Owasco officials in August or September, with a target of October for final local approval after state review.
Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin