In 1990 Howard Kimball, Seneca Lake resident and local businessman, organized a group of people to establish an association to protect Seneca Lake’s water quality. Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association was incorporated in 1991 with a start-up grant of $70,000. The group hired an Executive Director, Mary Ruth Sweet, and agreed to partner with Hobart and William Smith Colleges which would serve as the research arm of the organization.
A member of the organizing group, Ed Hoffman, helped to obtain incorporation as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. A volunteer Board of Directors representing the various interests around the lake was formed.
From its inception, the association was determined not to go it alone and was successful in forming partnerships with SUNY Oneonta, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC), Open Spaces Trust, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Citizen’s Statewide Lake Association Program (CSLAP) as well as other organizations.
Seneca Pure Waters' data collection efforts enabled it to inform the public on a number of issues including sources of contamination, treatment of invasive species, lake level concerns, and methods to remediate threats to lake water quality. Threats included non-source pollution, run-off from farms and individual septic systems, and road bank erosion. Several scientific studies were published including: reports on salinity levels and sources, limnology studies, hazardous waste sites, fracking, LPG storage, recommended changes to municipal land use ordinances, mapping of Seneca Lake’s 29 sub watersheds, recommendations for uniform onsite waste water management, and an environmental risk survey.
Significant achievements were accomplished by 1999 a comprehensive summary assessment titled The State of the Seneca Lake Watershed was published and the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) was established.
After ten years of service, Pure Waters began to decline in membership and funding. A reorganization committee was formed led by Richard Ahola and with the assistance of Bob Barton, Jim Carter, Mary Anne Kowalski, Bruce Adams, Phil Cianciotto and others they implemented substantial changes to the organization’s structure and finances. They eliminated all paid positions and all organizational and communication responsibilities were assumed by volunteer members of the board. The first annual dinner meeting was held in the fall 2009 and has continued every year since then.
Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association continues to study the quality of the lake and its tributaries in the watershed with the assistance of over 100 volunteers, funding from the Tripp Foundation and laboratory analysis by the Community Science Institute (CSI) based in Ithaca. Additional projects, such as Shoreline Monitoring to identify cyanobacteria or harmful algae blooms and Lake Monitoring through the CSLAP program have been added in an effort to compile a comprehensive all encompassing water quality assessment.
Accomplishments in the early years:
2016 – Seneca Pure Waters' Stream Monitoring efforts led to Reeder Creek being placed on the Impaired Water Body list which should lead to remediation efforts by the NYS DEC.
2015 – Seneca Pure Waters in collaboration with Finger Lakes Institute and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) established a Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) Monitoring Program 3 years ago. The program began with the HABs Hotline for reporting suspicious blooms and has grown into a full blown monitoring program with over 80 volunteers reporting weekly observations to the NYS DEC in the months of August and September.
2014 – Seneca Pure Waters launched a Stream Monitoring Program to identify and prioritize present sources of pollution entering Seneca Lake as well as to create a baseline of information against which future sources of pollution can be established. The program is an ongoing collaborative effort of Seneca Pure Waters volunteers and the Community Science Institute (CSI) in Ithaca. Seneca Pure Waters has roughly 60 volunteers monitor 5 streams at with up to 6 different collection points within the stream. Seneca Pure Waters projects that the 2018 stream monitoring laboratory costs will exceed $31,500.00. This Stream Monitoring Program is made possible by a grant from the Tripp Foundation.
2013 – Environmental Quality Award presented to Seneca Pure Waters by the US Environmental Protection Agency for protecting public health and enhancing the environmental quality of the Seneca Lake Watershed.
1999 – The State of the Seneca Lake Watershed a comprehensive summary assessment cosponsored by SLPWA and SLAP-5, a five county consortium was published. Over time SLAP-5 became the Seneca Lake Inter-municipal Organization with over 50 percent of the localities adopting the plan.