Owasco Watershed Lake Association Update

Submitted by Rick Nelson

The Owasco Watershed Lake Association (OWLA) Board is busy with existing projects and developing new ones for water quality improvements and watershed awareness.

Trained Harmful Algal Bloom spotting volunteers started two weeks ago to check all around the lakeshore for HABs. Very few have arrived so far.

Our roadside ditch remediation program continues in cooperation with the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District to reduce future sediment and nutrient loading into Owasco Lake.

In addition, the OWLA Board is in the initial stages of new efforts for the late summer into Fall:
• to increase awareness – interact with school teachers to incorporate water quality educational programs such as those available from the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges;
• install roadside signs highlighting the watershed boundaries, and important measures citizens can take to protect Owasco Lake.
• a tree planting program will hopefully blossom into a Lake wide effort with many volunteers; and
• a trash pickup day/week, hopefully Lake wide, to remove trash and debris from our shorelines, ditches, and streams.

For more info visit www.owla.org.

Photo credit: Rick Nelson


Owasco Lake Fish Advisory

The New York State Department of Health issues an annual advisory about consuming certain fish caught in specific New York State water bodies, because some fish contain chemicals at levels that could adversely affect health.    For the first time, this advisory includes some fish species from Owasco Lake.

Data from walleye and smallmouth bass collected in Owasco Lake by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation showed mercury levels that were higher than those previously found in smaller fish.   The fish collected in Owasco Lake tended to include larger, older fish than in other Finger Lakes

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, which can be released into the environment by sources like coal combustion. Elevated levels of mercury in fish have been documented in many New York State waters for many years, including lakes in the Adirondack and Catskill Regions of New York. Fish typically accumulate mercury from the food they eat. Smaller and younger fish within a species and fish lower in the food chain tend to build up fewer contaminants in their bodies, hence have a lower potential amount of mercury.

Based on the information from the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, walleyes collected and sampled from Owasco Lake in an earlier study were older than walleyes found in other lakes.  Fish that live longer and eat other fish, like bass and walleye, tend to have more mercury than do smaller or younger fish.  The Finger Lakes Institute plans on repeating their study in the next 18 months, depending upon funding, to see how the fish mercury levels are changing over time.

It is essential to know that the public drinking water from the City of Auburn and the Town of Owasco, both who draw water from Owasco Lake, is still safe.  This drinking water is tested annually for mercury and to date, no mercury has been detected.

For specific recommendations on fish consumption go to www.health.ny.gov/fish/fl.

For information on the chemicals for which the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco test in their drinking water go to



For more information on the Finger Lakes Mercury Project go to


Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program reports now available

The Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP) is a partnership between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), New York State Federation and Lake Associations (NYSFOLA), and lake residents who help monitor and collect critical lake data. The data collected through the program is used to identify water quality issues, detect seasonal and long term patterns, and inform volunteers and lake residents about water quality conditions in their lake.


Cayuga County provides part of their Finger Lakes Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance (FLLOWPA) funding to assist Lake Como and Duck Lake in their CSLAP programs.  The funding for Owasco, Cayuga and Skaneateles Lakes in 2017 was provided by the NYS Environmental Protection Fund-Ocean and Great Lakes Program.  The work is conducted by hardworking volunteers who donate their time to and resources to collect the samples.


2017 CSLAP reports for Cayuga County lakes are available on the NYSDEC website at https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/77882.html.  Lakes that have reports available are Cayuga Lake, Duck Lake, Lake Como, Owasco Lake and Skaneateles Lake.  The Finger Lakes Water Quality Report is also available on that page.

Owasco Lake Watershed Management Plan Public Participation Meeting Held

A public participation/outreach meeting was held on August 13th for the “Owasco Lake Watershed Management Plan—Incorporation of the EPA Nine Key Elements” project.  This public meeting was held to provide an update on the process to incorporate the EPA Nine Key Elements into the Owasco Lake Watershed Management and Waterfront Revitalization Plan, and to obtain public input on Watershed conditions and issues.  To view the presentations from that meeting or to view our public participation plan, please visit our website at http://www.cayugacounty.us/Departments/Water-Quality-Management-Agency/Information-on-County-Waterbodies/Owasco-Lake/Management-Plan.

Harmful Algal Blooms Surveillance 2018

As the summer progresses, so does the possibility that harmful algal blooms will impact our County’s waterbodies. To learn more about harmful algal blooms, go here.

Two of our Finger Lakes currently are conducting surveillance for harmful algal blooms. The Owasco Watershed Lake Association, Owasco Watershed Inspection Program and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are conducting a lake-wide surveillance program for Owasco Lake and information on that program can be found here. The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, Discover Cayuga Lake and the Community Science Institute are also conducting the HABs Harriers Monitoring Program for Cayuga Lake and information on that program can be found here here.

For other waterbodies in the County, harmful algal blooms can be reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on their website.