By Jeff Murray
With two weeks to go until opening day of trout fishing in New York, the icy waters of Catharine Creek are teeming with spawning rainbows.
A team from the state Department of Environmental Conservation conducted its annual "shocking" of the legendary Seneca Lake tributary Monday, starting in Montour Falls before working their way south toward Millport.
Early each spring, rainbow trout that grow big in the nutrient-rich environment of Seneca Lake swim upstream into Catharine Creek and other tributaries to lay thousands of eggs that will become the next generation of potential trophy fish.
That mass migration also attracts an army of anglers hoping to hook a giant rainbow before it performs its biological imperative and heads back to the lake.
Most of the female trout sampled Monday were "hard," meaning they hadn't laid their eggs yet.
That indicates the fish are probably right in the middle of the spawning run, said DEC regional fish biologist Brad Hammers.
"The females are just swimming up the creek. We aren't seeing many males yet," Hammers said. "We've had reports from people there were fish in the creek two weeks ago. There should still be fish in the creek (opening day). If it gets warm, they will spawn and head back."
There are too many variables to predict how fishing will go opening day, but there should definitely still be some decent trout in the stream, Hammers said.
Many of the trout netted Monday also had the round scars left by parasitic lamprey eels.
The DEC conducted a lamprey eradication program last year and plans to treat the creek with lampricide again in two years, Hammers said.
Trout fishing opens April 1 on most waters. The promise of a giant rainbow draws anglers from hundreds of miles away to the banks of Catharine Creek each year.
For more information on trout fishing, go to dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishing.html.
Environmental Monitor: A FONDRIEST publication
by Karla Lant on March 8, 2019
The most voluminous of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, rests at the heart of the local wine industry. Historically the lake has been a cool, clear body of water, but in recent times harmful algal blooms (HABs) have marred its crisp surface. Dan Corbett, vice president of water quality for the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, spoke to EM about what’s being done about HABs in the lake.
“I got engaged in the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association in 2014 as a volunteer for our stream sampling program, and I have been more and more engaged over time,” explains Mr. Corbett. “I have responsibility for our water quality monitoring efforts. We have a pretty significant program that I can describe, and water quality improvement projects which we’re trying to kick off and define our organizational role for, to address some of the issues that we observe with our monitoring.”
HABs are not just a problem for Seneca Lake. All of the Finger Lakes have had problems with HABs throughout the summer, mostly in September, over the past few years.
“Even the cleanest lakes that are clearly oligotrophic in their measurements have had some very severe harmful algae blooms, and high toxin levels that have found their way into some of the water supply systems for municipalities, so it’s certainly raised a concern here,” details Mr. Corbett. “It’s certainly a large concern, and it gets people motivated to take action, either personally or politically, so that can be a positive longer-term benefit as you try to turn things around.”
There are monitoring efforts at some level taking place across the Finger Lakes, and policymakers are working to address these issues through improved watershed management plans that are more aggressive than they have been in the past.
“I can speak to the fact that an awful lot of work has gone into the Seneca Lake Watershed Management Plan,” Mr. Corbett describes. “The most recent editing of that plan took place in 2012, and it’s a tremendous document that contains extensive knowledge about watershed land uses, sources of contamination, along with extensive background information. It has become clear to everyone involved that we need some more focused actions and clearer priorities if we are to address some of the current issues—specifically the harmful algae bloom issues that we’re seeing.”
The management plan for Seneca Lake is shaped by the standardized formats promulgated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“Completing approved plans in this fashion gives you higher marks as you seek funding for significant improvement projects,” states Mr. Corbett. The format that we’ve begun to focus on is called a Nine Element Plan, which is an EPA standard format. We’ve been in discussion with the consulting engineering group that has done this type of work for other watersheds that would play a key role in leading the effort and driving some of the more technical aspects of the plan.”
Corbett and the team believe that watershed modeling that can mathematically define pollutant loads is what has been missing from the plan before now. Along with large amounts of monitoring data, modeling can answer more questions.
“We have a pretty significant tributary monitoring program,” adds Mr. Corbett. “We currently monitor six of the tributaries in the Seneca Lake watershed. Three of those are very significant in their flow into the lake and make up the largest portion of the total fall into the lake.”
The other three tributaries are also interesting to the team, in that each offers a unique set of insights into the watershed. One is in a largely agricultural area with no urban regions and no wastewater treatment plant on it, so it provides a view of the agriculture impact. Another flows through the old Seneca Lake army munitions area. The last flows through a more forested watershed area, revealing what a more pristine area stream looks like.
The organization has 70 to 80 people involved in the stream monitoring program around the lake. Since its inception in 2014, the program has grown each year.
“A couple years ago we began to get very focused on our harmful algal bloom monitoring,” comments Mr. Corbett. “This year we had 102 volunteers that each monitored a piece of shoreline throughout July, August, September, and early October. It’s all organized and set up on a map with each area of responsibility defined. Once a week, over the weekend, volunteers would go out and look for blooms. They’re all trained on what they look like, and on how to take samples and get them into the lab for testing. The results of that have been the discovery of many algae blooms in Seneca Lake, particularly in that September timeframe.”
An additional benefit of the monitoring program is awareness—of the program itself, but also the problem that HABs present in the region.
“So many people are out there looking, and because they’re trained and their awareness is heightened, they’re also talking to their neighbors as they’re walking or paddling the shoreline,” remarks Mr. Corbett. “There’s a lot of communication about the issue and the potential causes of these issues, so it brings an overall awareness for the lake, a heightening of that awareness. That’s a real positive.”
Of course, this much discussion of harmful algal blooms always brings up the same issues.
“That leads to the obvious question: it’s nice that you’re monitoring, but what are you doing to fix the problem?” explains Mr. Corbett. “That leads into the management plan, its definition of prioritized actions, the obtaining of funds, and the inter-municipal organizations that can help drive improvements at the municipal level. Requirements for septic system inspections and the building of new properties that meet certain standards can drive wastewater treatment plant improvements and the development of agricultural best practices.”
Of course, the fact that HABs remain in the area is a frustration—to Corbett and many others.
“There’s a lot of angst about why we aren’t doing more, and I think as a lake association we struggle a little bit with what role we can take in driving some of these soil conservation actions that largely occur at a county or district level—for example, highway departments that do ditching around the lake and municipalities that put in place rules and some governance of some of these practices,” Mr. Corbett describes. “We try to be an advocate for change and work in partnership with those organizations, including at the state level, which is exactly what initiated the upgrade of this watershed management plan, but still there’s a lot of people who want to move faster as they see the effects of the problems that we have.”
The swelling number of volunteers in this program and others like it speaks to the growing concern among everyday people about the health of the water they drink and otherwise use.
“I’m only speaking for myself, but I think there are a lot of questions out there, especially when some of our cleanest lakes experience significant blooms,” comments Mr. Corbett. “We can drive towards cleaner water, and I think it will help some, but I don’t know that it will reduce the frequency of these harmful algae blooms.”
At the state level, the DEC has established a new subgroup called the Finger Lakes Water Hub (FLWH), a group of four or five people dedicated to improving Finger Lakes water quality. FLWH works with lake associations and others to develop improved data on these water bodies, and helps drive and develop improved watershed management plans.
“The Finger Lakes water hub has initiated a lake monitoring program called CSLAP, which stands for Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program, in each of the Finger Lakes,” details Mr. Corbett. “On Seneca Lake, we have four mid-lake locations where our volunteers take samples near the surface and at about 60 feet deep. They also make observations of water clarity and other parameters, and they do this every two weeks throughout the summer for eight sessions, total. They do some actual lab work in the kitchen, and then they send the samples off to the lab for analysis.”
Overall, the stream and lake monitoring programs have been very positive, allowing the team to generate water quality information that they can compare to historical data to get a sense of how the lake’s water quality is changing.
“Over the past 10 or 20 years, Seneca Lake has clearly moved from an oligotrophic to a mesotrophic state,” remarks Mr. Corbett. “There are some big gaps in time, but we know where we are and where we used to be. I think the state is throwing some significant resources at this problem, which is very helpful, and I think adds to the call to action that harmful algal blooms have created. It gives us a lot more press and support for the work we’re trying to do.”
GENEVA – Senator Pam Helming today announced that the Finger Lakes region’s fight to block a proposed garbage incinerator project from moving forward at the former Seneca Army Depot in the Town of Romulus continues. Her bill to prevent Circular EnerG from obtaining a permit to build an incinerator that would require the daily delivery of more than 2,500 tons of trash to operate has advanced through the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. It will now go before the Senate for a vote.
“The fight to stop this misguided proposal that would devastate the surrounding communities continues. This is a moment of celebration for the entire Finger Lakes region and all those who believe in clean water, clean air, and a high quality of life for our children and families. Ever since this project first came before the Romulus Planning Board, I have worked with local residents, environmental advocates, and business owners to craft this legislation and gain support for it. We brought together many diverse groups, including statewide business organizations and environmental advocacy groups, who are typically on opposite sides of the table to make sure that this project never happens and never has a chance of happening. The Finger Lakes Community Preservation Act, as the legislation is known, supports residents and business owners who are fearful of the impact this project would have on public health, the environment, their businesses, and the value of their property. Most importantly, it protects the children of Romulus who would have been forced to go to school next to a smokestack releasing who knows what. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, this is not a political issue. We need to continue putting the people first, not politics. Thank you to Senator May, Senator O'Mara, and Assemblyman Palmesano for their partnership on this important legislation and to my colleagues on the Energy and Telecommunications Committee for working to advance this legislation,” Senator Helming said.
This legislation (S.2270/A.5029) prohibits the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) and others from issuing a waste-to-energy permit for a proposed trash incinerator if it meets the following conditions:
Opponents of the project note that the incinerator would produce toxic ash from burning a range of solid wastes that can vary widely in chemical output, making compliance with emissions and toxic waste limits difficult. Siting a trash incinerator in the Finger Lakes region, with the associated impacts of air and ash pollution, will damage local tourism as well as the booming wine and agricultural industries. The Assembly bill is sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Cusick and has been referred to the Assembly Energy Committee.
Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition Secretary William Ouweleen, also Vintner of O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards, said, “The Finger Lakes wine and agritourism industry is grateful that Senators Helming and May, along with Assembly Members Cusick and Palmesano, have come to the aid and rescue of the people of the Finger Lakes, through the introduction of a bipartisan bill that will prohibit garbage incineration projects in the Finger Lakes watershed. This legislation will serve to protect the economic interests of the Finger Lakes and preserve the Finger Lakes brand, which is becoming world-renowned for fine wine, food, and ecotourism.”
New York Wine Industry Association member Carol Doolittle, also co-owner of Frontenac Point Vineyard, said, “All winery owners and employees in the Finger Lakes region thank Senator Helming for successfully working to protect our environment and the tourism livelihood of thousands of small businesses. We are happy that she is collaborating with other legislators to achieve this goal and always look forward to working with her. The focus should be on reducing waste, not sending it to rural New York, where it will negatively impact residents as well as people who travel here to enjoy the beauty of the land. Landfills and incinerators are not beautiful. If they were, the waste would be disposed of where it is generated.”
Seneca Lake Guardian President Joseph Campbell said, “We remain indebted to Senator Helming for her dedication to getting this vital bill passed, and we are grateful to Senator Rachel May for her sponsorship of the bill. The proposed garbage-burning facility in the heart of the Finger Lakes has bipartisan, widespread opposition, and this bill should have been passed during last year’s legislative session. We urge Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to do everything in their power to ensure swift passage of this bill and for Governor Cuomo to sign it into law as soon as it reaches his desk. The families and businesses of the Finger Lakes have fought long enough and deserve to have this issue settled once and for all.”
Finger Lakes Times
By DAVID L. SHAW
The Chronicle-Express - By John Christensen
Posted Jan 6, 2019 at 12:01 AM
The Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (SWIO) is conducting a search for the new watchdog/advocate to protect Seneca Lake as a clean source of water. According to Mark Venuti, chair of SWIO, State Sen. Pam Helming got $110 million in Clean Water funds tucked in the state budget, and $200,000 of that is earmarked for the Town of Geneva to hire the Seneca Watershed Steward, and to fund program efforts.
The SWIO Steward is a full-time, benefits-eligible, administrative salaried position for $59,000 per year. Venuti says Hobart & William Smith Colleges will manage payroll and the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) will provide office space. Venuti says this arrangement of support relieves SWIO of the burden of administration and paying for office space.
Venuti says he expects the steward will report day-to-day to Dr. Lisa Cleckner, Director of the FLI, and to the SWIO governance group as an executive committee. SWIO hopes to fill the position by the end of January, and already has six applicants for the post.
According to the request for applications, the Seneca Watershed Steward will work on behalf of SWIO to “identify and implement projects in the watershed and lake to improve the water quality of Seneca Lake. The watershed steward will be the “on the ground” Seneca Lake expert and work with a number of different stakeholder groups, including the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, county governments, water purveyors, business and tourism entities, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, agricultural producers, academic institutions, Keuka Lake (part of the Seneca Lake watershed) organizations, and citizens to ensure that the lake remains a Class AA drinking water source. An annual work plan for this position will be developed in consultation with a small governance group (five members) from intermunicipal groups of Seneca and Keuka Lakes, watershed associations of Seneca and Keuka Lakes, and the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”
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