This is the second part of a series on water quality in the Seneca Lake watershed.
Dr. John Halfman, Hobart & William Smith Colleges Professor of Geolimnology & Hydrogeochemistry has been studying Seneca Lake since the early 1990s, and in 2012, he sounded an alarm about the degrading condition of the lake.
“What I see with the scientific evidence I have is Seneca Lake is slowly getting worse and worse over time. If we don’t do something now, the trajectory is such that it will degrade beyond the point of return in 20 or 30 years,” he said in a 2012 video posted online.
Halfman has determined the lake is becoming more turbid, and if that continues it will become eutrophic, meaning it will have high biological productivity. With excessive amounts of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, eutrophic lakes support an abundance of aquatic plants or algae. Halfman warns if the quality continues to decline, Seneca will become a green slimy lake with an algal scum on the surface. He says bluntly, “It will stink.”
As property values decline, municipal tax bases will plummet, and the quality of life in the largest watershed in the Finger Lakes will be changed because of the impact on tourism and the winery industry.
On top of all that, the thousands of households that depend on Seneca Lake for drinking water will have to find another source, he adds.
In the six years since Halfman’s 2012 warning, more data has led researchers to conclude that Seneca Lake has recently made the transition from a healthy oligotrophic waterbody which can provide water of high-drinking quality to a mesotrophic lake, which has more nutrients and submerged aquatic plants. And that transition has happened more rapidly than projected.
Halfman was among the presenters at the Seneca Lake Water Quality Summit March 24. A day’s worth of presentations led to the conclusion that organized efforts are critical to continue studies and develop strategies to have an impact on the watershed, which includes the Keuka Lake Watershed.
Halfman says stormwater runoff, the top source of nutrients flowing into the lake, encourages the growth of aquatic life, including the algae that can result in harmful bacteria blooms.
There are things that property owners can do now to help reduce this rapid decline, according to the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association.
Specific strategies, including the ones below are explained in more detail in “A Homeowner’s Guide to Lake-Friendly Living,” a publication of the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association.
• Reduce impermeable surfaces: use surfaces that allow water to infiltrate and soak into the ground, rather than quickly run off a hard surface
• Limit the size of your lawn. Lawns absorb less rainfall than natural areas. Natural wooded areas absorb rainfall better than grassy areas.
• Reduce the need to use water on your property by using mulch, drip irrigation, rain barrels, rain gardens, and native plants that won’t need irrigation.
• Minimize erosion with sediment fences during construction, and replant bare areas quickly.
• Keep grass length to 2 1/2 to 3 inches. Be smart about fertilizer, and keep soil, leaves and lawn clippings out of the street, ditches, storm drains and streams by bagging them, composting, or leaving them right on the lawn as natural fertilizer.
• Maintain your septic system by inspecting it regularly, caring for the drainfield, using less water, and being careful about what is put down the drain.
• Don’t flush drugs down the toilet.
• Maintain your vehicles so they don’t leak fluids.
• Use non-toxic, biodegradable products when possible.
• Install a vegetative buffer of natural vegetation. Use the natural landscape as a guide.
For more information about steps you can take to Save Seneca Lake, visit www.senecalake.org.
This is the second part in a series about improving the quality of Seneca Lake’s watershed.