Watershed Resilience Posts

A Plan for a Local Adaptive Management Fund for the Owasco Lake Watershed, 2017-2031

We have no other specific plan at this point and so to criticize the governor or anyone else for failure to produce a blank check for an unknown future, without a request, program or specifics is … well, is fiscally imprudent and both technically and otherwise ill-advised.” Chairman of the Cayuga County Legislature, April 30, 2017, in the Citizen newspaper.

Adaptive resilience work provides the “compass” for setting course towards sustainable resilience. Bounded conflict, necessary to detect error and make corrections, provides the “gyroscope” for keeping course through turbulent pathways.

Resilience is the capacity to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feed-backs. The most resilient animal and plant species are most likely to facilitate habitat regeneration in degraded landscapes, and are typically considered “pests” by people because these resilient species tend to be behaviorally flexible and tolerant of human presence. For example, among the most resilient animals are coyote and raccoon.


  1. Of 80 water samples obtained from Owasco Lake in 2015 and 2016, more than 50% contained cyanotoxins as much as 43-times in excess of the maximum NYSDEC limit for safe recreational contact with freshwater.
    1. 2016 data: http://www.owascoinspection.org/notification
    2. 2015 data: http://www.owascoinspection.org/habs-2015

III. 2017 data: http://www.owascoinspection.org/2017-hab-program

  1. Other than a handful of public beach closings, Owasco Lake has remained open for all recreation since August 2015.
  1. The World Health Organization and the USEPA document that (1) excessive cyanotoxin levels often persist for 7-40 days after a bloom event, and (2) cyanotoxin shore scum typically contains very high concentrations in their shore scum. Such scum became widespread on the waters and shoreline of Owasco Lake during 2015 & 2016.
  1. Autumn 2016: City of Auburn and Town of Owasco sold water within 0.15 µg/ Liter (15 parts per billion) of the New York State limit for cyanotoxin contamination in finished drinking water. This was a first in New York State.
  1. In 2015, Cayuga County residents paid approximately $2.2 million for public drinking water.
  1. Cyanotoxins are (1) reproductive system carcinogens, and (2) liver, skin and nerve-toxins. This has never been communicated in lay-person terms directly to (1) parents of infants, (2) elementary school teachers, students and their parents, (3) immune-impaired residents, and (4) all other residents of Cayuga County.
  1. Free and readily available water was never provided to poor residents, in particular those caring for infants and immune-impaired citizens during the Autumn of 2016.
  1. More than 25% of the residents of Auburn, and more than 15% of the residents of Cayuga County reside in home below the NYS poverty line.
  1. Agricultural nitrogen watershed groundwater pollution is transported by underground tile drainage systems to streams.
  1. The 1972 Clean Water Act defined all runoff from livestock farms, other than that from production areas, as unregulated nonpoint runoff.
  1. The 1972 Clean Water Act exempted farms without livestock from all water pollution controls. Clean Water Act, Section 502 General Definitions Except as otherwise specifically provided, when used in this chapter: The term “point source” means any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged. This term does not include agricultural stormwater discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture.” https://www.epa.gov/cwa-404/clean-water-act-section-502-general-definitions
  1. Approximately ¾ of the farms in the Owasco Lake Watershed are cash-crop farms that are completely unregulated.
  1. Most consumers refuse to pay additional money for food grown in a socially-just and ecologically-sustainable manner.
  1. In 1997 the City of Auburn’s water was judged the best tasting municipal water in New York State at the annual NYS Fair competition.
  1. In 2016, the municipal water in Cayuga County was the first in New York State history to be near the cyanotoxin limit for municipal water sources.
  1. The 19 year-long sequence of events from 1997-2016 occurred despite more than $7 million invested by New York State in agricultural best management practices with the intent to improve the quality of Owasco Lake as a public water source.
  1. TMDL and 9 Element-based Watershed Plans in New York State have never required mandatory compliance with Watershed Plan recommendations that are additional to existing Federal, State, and Local regulations.


  1. Recommendations should be Implemented as a Pilot Project in the Owasco Lake Watershed.
  1. June 2017: Formal commitment of $16,000,000 for Local Adaptive Management Fund for the Owasco Lake Watershed that would be disbursed from 2017-2021.
    1. ¼ of the fund should be provided by New York State.
    2. ¼ of the fund should be provided by Cayuga County, Auburn, all of the Towns and Villages within the watershed, and Tompkins County. Contribution from each municipality will be calculated as 5% of its Unallocated Reserve Fund as of December 31, 2016.
    3. ¼ of the fund should be provided by local businesses with 2016 adjusted gross incomes greater than $250,000.
    4. ¼ of the fund should be matched by local foundations.
  1. Benefits of the Local Fund:
    1. Local funding would permit a continuous process.
    2. Community reliance on State and Federal funding will inevitably is irresponsible.
    3. State and Federal funding is certain to to include substantial delays.
    4. A local fund would put local residents“skin-in-the-game”.
  1. December 2017: Owasco Watershed Numeric Nutrient Criteria Approved. Adaptive Resilience Plan for the Owasco Lake Watershed recommendations should include:
    1. Adaptive resilience work should guide all future watershed modeling efforts, rather than the current practice of developing watershed models that guide watershed best management practices.
    1. Sufficient watershed modeling of nutrient pollution sources and transport to begin adaptive management work in 2017 was performed in 2007 by Barry Evans, Senior Research Associate at the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.
    1. All future watershed models guided by NYSDEC should include the following Owasco Lake Watershed physical variables:
      1. Pharmaceutical pollution,
      2. Hydrocarbon pollution from boat engines and roadside runoff,
      3. Interplay of freshwater mollusks and the “whiting-events”that were once common in Owasco Lake,
      4. Robust sub-basin analysis,
      5. Septic system pollution,
      6. Detailed soil properties,
      7. Deicing salt & sand and zinc from vehicle tires,
      8. NYSDOT, residential, and farm herbicide and pesticide use,
      9. Farm tile drainage system discharges,
      10. Precipitation intensity increase,
      11. Farm field, “cleaned” bare road-ditch, steep road ditch, shoreline, and stream bank erosion,
      12. Effects of the US Army Corps of Engineers Owasco Lake Rule Curve. When I was a boy after Labor Day the elevation of Owasco Lake was approximately 705′ +MSL,
      13. Pasteurized sewage sludge from the Syracuse Metro Treatment Plant as a farm soil amendment within this watershed,
      14. Soil biology and groundwater effects from liquid and bedded-pack manure and mineral fertilizer use from all >50 animal livestock farms and all cash crop farms,
      15. Sequestration of carbon by sustainable farming practices,
      16. Erosion control by terrestrial “invasive” plants,
      17. Benthic stocks of phosphorus,
      18. Contaminated sediments in the Owasco Inlet and Owasco Lake deposited during Smith-Corona’s manufacturing in Groton from 1909-1983.
    1. Regulatory water quality numeric nutrient parameters for Owasco Lake and for “numbered” streams within the Owasco Lake Watershed:
      1. Chlorophyll A threshold: 0.5 µg/ Liter
      2. Secchi Depth: 5 feet
      3. Open water N:P ratio = 70
      4. Total Phosphorus: 10 µg/ Liter
      5. Total Nitrogen: 0.20 mg/ Liter
    1. Total trihalomethanes (TTHM) Disinfection By-Products in finished drinking water that is defined as “potable”: 80 ppb maximum – 24 hours.
    1. Microcystin concentration in finished drinking water defined as “potable”: 0.15 µg/ Liter – 24 hours.
    1. Above this concentration, emergency water plans approved by the Cayuga County Health Department should be immediately activated by all municipalities.
    1. Each municipality should establish reserve funds and disbursement methods for implementing emergency water plans as of January 2018.
    1. Microcystin concentration for all recreational activities on or within the waters of the Owasco Lake Watershed: 15 µg/ Liter – 24 hours. At or above this level, Owasco Lake and its tributaries should be closed to all recreational activities for 14 days.
    1. Cyanotoxin testing funded jointly by the Cayuga County Water & Sewer Authority, the City of Auburn, and the Town of Owasco should be conducted daily between July 1 and November 1 at all public beaches, above the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco water intakes, and at all public fishing access locations within the Watershed. Testing should also be done when a cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) bloom in Owasco Lake is reported to Cayuga County, the City of Auburn, and/or NYSDEC.
    1. Livestock farms with more than 100 mature cattle, or equivalent, required to be permitted as Small CAFOs.
    1. Crop farms of more than 250 acres be required to follow New York State approved Nutrient Management Plans specific to each farm.
    1. Sampling of drainage tile outlets for nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations that has legal standing to implement fee-based SPDES permits to discharge excess nutrients as ground-water pollution.
    1. Erosion and sedimentation rates greater than 1 Ton/Acre/Year would require remediation paid for by the person(s) who hold title to the land.
    1. Aerobic digestion (composting) or anaerobic digestion (digester) of all farm animal manure prior to land application.
    1. Total Nitrogen and Total Phosphorus pollution be calculated as : [average of farm field N and P from humans used soils, calculated by the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) distributed on a per acre basis] + [calculated stream bank erosion based on select monitoring of glacial-till and of varved soils in the Dutch Hollow Brook and Owasco Inlet sub-watershed] + [groundwater pollution from tile drain outlets] + [groundwater pollution from septic systems within 500 feet of Owasco Lake and its tributaries] + [atmospheric deposition].
    1. Destruction of rural and farm hedgerows should require title holders of all existing hedgerow to pay a fee of $25.00 per square foot to the Local Watershed Fund.
    1. Responsible farming practices should receive cost-sharing priority rather than the current practice of granting Ag Nonpoint Source grants to the most destructive ecosystem violators. For example, in 2014, a farm in Scipio was granted $400,000 after their manure spills into Owasco Lake. NYSDEC levied a fine of $10,000 for their pollution, so the the farm actually was rewarded for their irresponsible farming in the amount of $390,000.
    2. Farmers and graziers who have adopted pro-active ecosystem protection should receive cost-share funding for pasture fencing.
    1. The shore of Owasco Lake and perennial streams should be protected by 35 foot riparian buffers along their entire length. The land title holder can implement perennial vegetation she or he prefers. Use of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides is not permitted in buffers.
    1. Owasco Lake water frontage should have no more than 25% of their area bare of perennial vegetation.
    1. Buffers can be harvested annually.
    1. Riparian soils that in an undrained condition remain near saturation year-round should be protected with 200 foot wide buffer areas.
    1. All under-drainage discharges should require point-source SPDES permits.
    1. A wildway corridor should be established in the Owasco Lake Watershed.
    1. Rewilding is the passive management of ecological succession with the goal of restoring natural ecosystem processes and reducing human control of landscapes.
      1. Urban and suburban lands are not suitable for rewilding.
      2. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and grazing may be allowed within the wildway. All constructed water-crossings should be designed for animals, not humans.
      3. In short, the rewilding posits that large predators are often instrumental in maintaining the integrity of ecosystems. In turn, the large predators require extensive space and connectivity.
      4. Rewilding has much lower maintenance costs than other management options. Significant returns of regulating ecosystems and providing cultural services are obtained for limited levels of investment.
      5. North American counties favoring wilderness showed faster growth in their employment and income level than counties in which the economy is mainly based on resource extraction.
    1. All requirements of NYSDEC Enhanced Phosphorus Removal and Stormwater Discharge requirements should be required within the Owasco Lake Watershed.
    1. Owners or operators of construction activities that involve soil disturbances between 5000 square feet and 1 acre of land should obtain coverage under the NYS General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activity.
    1. There should be no agricultural exemptions from a requirement that all soil disturbance should be required to obtained individual permits for the discharge of stormwater runoff:
      1. Where the discharges from the soil disturbance activities are tributary to Owasco Lake and streams classified as AA or AA-s; and
      2. Which disturb one or more acres of land with no existing impervious cover; and
      3. Which are undertaken on land with a Soil Slope Phase that is identified as an E or F, or the map unit name is inclusive of 25% or greater slope, on the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) Soil Survey for the County where the disturbance will occur.
    1. Plan enforcement by NYSDEC environmental conservation officers.
  1. January 2018 – December 2020: Three-year timetable for full Implementation of Owasco Watershed Resilience for all activities and land-uses existing as of 2018.
    1. Residents with adjusted gross incomes less than $25,000 obliged to implement will be assisted by a matching funds equal to 100% Implementation costs.
    2. Residents and businesses owners with adjusted gross business incomes greater than $250,000 obliged to implement will not receive any matching funds.
    3. Other income groupings will be developed to determine appropriate cost-sharing.
    4. Implementation costs will be provided from the Watershed Fund for Resilience Implementation practices not otherwise required by New York State.
    5. Expenditure: $10 million.
  2. Activities started after 2020 subject to requirements of Owasco Watershed Resilience Implementation could initially be funded by the remaining $4.5 million Fund balance.
  1. January 2020 – December 2033: Owasco Lake’s hydraulic residence time is approximately 3.5 years. During this 14 year cycle the 210 billion gallon volume of Owasco Lake would be renewed four times. Charlie Greene P.E. who has developed this plan believes that by December 2033 significant water quality improvement of the Owasco Lake Watershed will be evident.

Thank you. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Charlie Greene P.E.

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