More Than $2 Million State Investment is Safeguarding Owasco Lake Drinking Water for 46,000 Central New Yorkers
Governor Urges U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Quickly Issue Permits for Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration Initiative
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the successful installation and operation of advanced treatment technologies to ensure clean drinking water for the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco. Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo announced the commitment of more than $2 million to evaluate treatment alternatives and upgrade these public drinking water systems. The State Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation have assisted these communities with design and implementation of two carbon treatment projects that are now operational. The City of Auburn is utilizing a powdered activated carbon treatment system and Town of Owasco is utilizing a granular activated carbon treatment system. Both of these technologies absorb harmful algal toxins, removing them from the water
"This major investment will ensure that Auburn and Owasco residents continue to have access to clean drinking water and will prevent harmful algal toxins from contaminating the water supply," Governor Cuomo said. "These critical upgrades will protect drinking water quality in the region for years to come."
The Governor announced the approved solutions at Auburn's Emerson Park on April 26, 2017, in addition to signing legislation providing a $2.5 billion investment in clean water infrastructure and water quality protection. The Cayuga County Department of Health is collecting water samples weekly for analysis at the DOH Wadsworth Laboratory and currently no toxins have been detected in the water supply.
With installation of the advanced filtration systems now complete, the state is continuing to advance projects to improve water quality and reduce contributing factors fueling the algal blooms throughout the entire Owasco Lake Watershed, including the Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration Initiative. The goal of this innovative project developed by Cayuga County is to build wetland retention basins that will trap sediment and nutrients from the Owasco Inlet before the water flows into Owasco Lake. Currently, high stream flows are carrying nutrients directly to the lake, encouraging the growth of algal blooms. Last week, Governor Cuomo urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite their review and approval of this project, which is critical to ensure clean drinking water for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. In the event that the Army Corps fails to take action, New York State will take all necessary emergency actions, including advancing the Owasco Flats Wetland Initiative, to abate any potential emergency to drinking water.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "The DEC continues to investigate the causes of and promote solutions to address the challenge of harmful algal blooms here in Owasco Lake and across New York State. Through the work of the newly established Finger Lakes Water Hub, the state is prioritizing action on necessary projects, like the Owasco Flats Wetlands Restoration Initiative, and we urge our federal partners to move quickly on providing the necessary approvals to ensure work can start immediately."
Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "By moving quickly to stay a step ahead of an emerging threat, Governor Cuomo is ensuring this community will continue to have the quality drinking water it deserves. These aggressive actions for the Owasco Lake community are further examples of the state prioritizing clean drinking water to protect the public's health."
Governor Cuomo has directed State agencies, including DEC, DOH, Department of Agriculture and Markets and Department of State to work closely with local government to address these issues.
In Owasco Lake, blooms have concentrated along shorelines throughout the lake, resulting in periodic closures of bathing beaches. In recent years, low levels of the toxins have been detected in raw water at the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco drinking water treatment facilities. Although below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory levels, 2016 was the first year with trace amounts of microcystin detected in the finished drinking water.
Similar blooms in other lakes are usually the result of too much phosphorus in the water, and reductions in nutrient levels can help to reduce these problems. However, in Owasco Lake, phosphorus and chlorophyll levels in the open water are typically low, and while the trigger for the blooms in Owasco Lake and some of the other Finger Lakes is not well understood, DEC is conducting additional studies and instituting further nutrient control measures.
Cayuga County Legislature Chair Keith Batman said, "We are pleased that we have succeeded in installing treatment systems that will ensure drinking water delivered to homeowners is clean and free of toxins. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for providing the resources that made this possible, and for all of the people who worked hard to get these systems installed in record time. We need to continue to focus on the larger issue of restoring the water quality of Owasco Lake, and an important part of that is the proposed Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration Project. Thank you again Governor, for your continued support of this project, as well as Senator Schumer and the US Army Corps for giving this project the attention it deserves."
City of Auburn Mayor Michael Quill said, "Governor Cuomo is to be credited for his steadfast commitment to safeguarding water quality for all New Yorkers, from his partnership with us here in Auburn and Owasco to major investments like the $2.5 Clean Water Infrastructure Act. Last year we asked the Governor for his assistance and his response was immediate, we are prepared today because of the Governor's leadership. The Governor understands that technological upgrades and enhancements to New York's water infrastructure will enable economic growth, environmental protection, and safeguard the health of our communities.
Town of Owasco Supervisor Ed Wagner said, "I would like to personally thank Governor Cuomo and Commissioners Zucker and Seggos on behalf of the approximately 5 thousand people whose drinking water is filtered by the Town's treatment facility. The Town of Owasco is now able to ensure that all residents will be able to drink water from the tap without fear of contaminates. The Governor recognizes that clean drinking water is crucial to public health and the environment and that investing in our water infrastructure will protect this vital resource for all New Yorkers. The $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 will fund necessary upgrades to water systems across the state while developing a national model for protecting drinking water. Here in Auburn/Owasco, the Governor is working to address Owasco Lake's challenges with algal blooms and ensure our community has access to clean drinking water.
New York State has a robust harmful algal blooms surveillance and notification program. Collaboration among DEC, DOH, Cayuga County Department of Health, the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program, and engaged local stakeholders such as the Owasco Lake Watershed Association are effectively documenting blooms through weekly surveillance at fixed points all around the lake. For more information visit DEC's Harmful Algal Blooms Notifications Page here.
Owasco Lake Watershed Quality Actions by state agencies include:
Department of Environmental Conservation
- $600,000 to Study and Implement Safeguards to Owasco Lake Watershed, which includes $100,000 for enhanced water quality studies and more than $400,000 for pollution mitigation measures.
- Creation of the Finger Lakes Water Hub, which includes four new DEC water resources staff (two Research Scientists, a Watershed Coordinator, and Supervising Scientist) located in Region 7 and focused on water quality in Finger Lakes.
- New DEC Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Permit Renewal to Promote Water Quality Protections on New York Farms.
- $2.5 Billion Investment in Clean Water Infrastructure and Water Quality Protection, with $210 million allocated for Source Water Protection Actions including $50 million for compliance with the new DEC CAFO permit.
- $200,000 Dutch Hollow Brook Watershed BMP Implementation project.
- Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration and Riparian Buffers Initiative provides Cayuga County a $712,500 Environmental Facilities Corporation Green Innovation Grant for the construction and restoration of wetlands, floodplains and riparian buffers in Moravia.
- Village of Groton Wastewater Treatment Facility phosphorus reduction project and permit modification. In 2010, the Village received a $2,627,098 Water Quality Improvement Project grant from DEC to upgrade their facility to comply with SPDES permit limits and reduce phosphorus to Owasco Inlet and Owasco Lake, completed in 2011.
Department of Health
- In 2016, provided technical assistance to water system operators on how to optimize existing treatment.
- Provided daily analysis for mirocystin in September 2016 and will continue to perform analysis to support the Cayuga County and local water systems.
- Expedited the review and approval of engineering plans for upgrades at the Town of Owasco and City of Auburn water treatment plants.
- Implemented testing program for recreational bathing beaches.
Department of State
- $35,000 to Cayuga County from Local Waterfront Revitalization Grant Program to develop a Nine Element Plan for the entire Owasco Lake watershed. This watershed based plan will identify and quantify lake sources of pollutants, determine the water quality targets, and the pollutant reductions needed to meet these goals. County is working with local farms, businesses, and residents to identify the actions needed to achieve the reductions needed to improve water quality in Owasco Lake. Process ensures contributing causes and sources of pollution are identified, key stakeholders are involved in the planning process, and restoration and protection strategies are identified that will address water quality concerns.
Agriculture & Markets
- Agricultural Environmental Management Program includes 90 farms that worked with the Cayuga County Conservation District through at least Tier 2 of the program.
- $7,123,958 investment including farm and County Conservation District Contribution (from 1994-2015) including 200 Best Management Practice Systems installed or under construction.
- NYS Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control Grant Program has invested $4,190,799 in the Owasco Lake Watershed from 1994-2015.
In addition, State agencies are working with the Cayuga County Environmental Health Division to ensure enforcement of watershed regulations.