Two years ago, a steering committee formed to update the Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations. Now a draft is available for the public to review and comment on. The rollout process is being followed, but the proposed draft raises concerns. First, oversight and enforcement of rules are not clear. Secondly, there appears to be deference to nutrient management plans rather than the primacy of the fieldwork that an inspection program should be free to conduct.
The emphasis on the variances is troubling in that they are foregrounded in this proposed draft. What is the reason to offer waivers before we get to the actual rules and regulations? I understand variances, but they should not precede the most important part. Secondly, who determines who gets a variance? Is it Watershed Inspection Committee, Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council (OLWMC), or the water purveyors (the city of Auburn and town of Owasco)? This is not clear.
Another concern is oversight and enforcement of the OLWRR. In the current draft, it is not clear who runs the WIP. Is it Watershed Inspection Committee or the OLWMC? The reason why this matters is that the city of Auburn funds 90% of the WIP and last year agreed to move the WIP from the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District to the OLWMC, on the condition that the city have another representative on the Watershed Inspection Committee. As of now, there is only one inspector to cover the 205 miles that make up the watershed. But since the OLWMC administers the WIP, much of that money now is used for the OLWMC’s executive director. How can the WIP rigorously enforce rules and regulations with just one inspector? And who does this inspector answer to? This is not clear.
Finally, the inspection program must exercise autonomy and authority to inspect and protect a watershed, which provides drinking water for 45,000 people. In light of the harmful algal bloom crisis, we cannot continue to rely on voluntary best management practices and nutrient management plans. New York state must adopt, develop and implement a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Owasco Lake. But until this happens we need to exercise our right to strong rules and regulations and viable inspection program. I invite those interested in lake water quality to the comment meetings: 6:30 p.m. May 15 at BOCES, and 6:30 p.m. May 16 at Moravia High School.
Terry Cuddy is an Auburn city councilor.