SWIO is a non-profit organization whose membership includes the 40-plus municipalities (counties, cities, villages, and towns) within the watershed or who draw water from Seneca Lake. It is just a few years old and is still in the process of gaining support from the all of the watershed’s municipalities to ensure becomes self-sustaining.
SWIO employs the Seneca Watershed Steward, Ian Smith. The Watershed Steward is crucial for current and future initiatives aimed at controlling nutrient flows into the lake. This position was initially funded for two years by a state grant, spearheaded by area state legislators (the position was filled in April 2019). Now local funding is required.
To be viable, SWIO must obtain adequate funding from its members. SWIO has calculated a “fair share” for each municipality using a multiple-factor formula similar to the one used on Canandaigua Lake for more than 20 years. While the amount of water drawn from the lake is the most important factor, other factors such as length of shoreline, property values, land area, and population also are considered in the calculation. Notably, the average Seneca municipality share is much lower than comparable Canandaigua municipalities since there are many more member entities in the Seneca watershed to share the costs.
Pure Waters has been working closely with SWIO leadership and the Watershed Steward to engage municipalities and encourage them to become active members—in particular to budget their “fair share.” Unfortunately, too many have deemed clean water not worthy of their fiscal support.
Even municipalities drawing extensive amounts of drinking water are not fully participating, despite large water system budgets and modest “fair shares” (the City of Geneva’s fair share is only about $10,000 and the Village of Waterloo’s is about $4,000). Some towns, such as the Town of Benton, draw water from wells that are hydrologically connected to the lake and therefore still have a stake in its water quality. Benton’s fair share is just over $2,000.
To their credit, many municipalities have willingly signed up and budgeted their “fair share”. Most noteworthy are Seneca and Ontario Counties; the Village of Watkins Glen; and the Towns of Geneva, Hector, Starkey, and Torrey.