Everyone around the Finger Lakes understands a few simple concepts — primarily that water quality problems flow downhill. So why aren’t there more measures in place to help reduce the damage from the biggest cause of poor water quality in lakes like Seneca?

The consensus of researchers who spoke at last month’s Seneca Lake Water Quality Summit is that stormwater carries the most nutrients into the lake, setting up conditions for increased aquatic plant growth and more frequent instances of potentially harmful algal blooms. The problems that grow from the storm runoff take years to mitigate. Researchers estimates it takes 18 years for the outflow from the lake to make up for the inflow, the longest retention time for any of the Finger Lakes.

The Seneca Lake watershed overlaps portions of 40 municipalities within five counties: Chemung, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca and Yates.

Yates County towns in the watershed are Barrington, Benton, Milo, Potter, Torrey, Starkey, and Jerusalem, which include the villages of Dresden, Dundee, and Penn Yan.

Each of these municipalities have their own land use codes, each with their own implications when it comes to water quality. That’s where the recently established Seneca Intermunicipal Organization comes into play, as an entity that focuses on recommendations from studies of the lake’s conditions and comparisons of practices in the watershed.

In 2014, the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, working with Finger Lakes Institute, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, and Southern Tier Central Regional Planning & Development Board, has compiled an overview of the local laws, plans, programs and practices in the municipalities to determine gaps between current practices and best management practices.

Dave Zorn, of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council says a watershed management plan incorporates two components: protection of pristine water, and restoration of water quality.

The study also compiles information about all of the federal, state and local organizations with an interest in the Finger Lakes and Seneca Lake. In all, the study lists seven federal agencies, seven state, more than nine regional organizations, and a variety of county-wide departments and organizations (planning, soil & water conservation districts, health, water quality coordinating committees, and more) in the watershed, in addition to the multiple towns and villages.

After completing the review, the committee made several recommendations for local municipalities to consider implementing.

In Yates County

The study reveals that some comprehensive plans have not been updated since 1969 (Starkey and Dundee), while others have been updated more recently, but none had been updated since 2009. As a result, the study recommends that Yates County municipalities apply for funding to help improve agricultural practices, and to strengthen wastewater treatment standards. Some municipalities have begun efforts to update regulations with inspections of septic systems, and stricter requirements for new systems and development near steep slopes. Others have begun updating comprehensive plans and other local codes.

Here are some of the recommendations made for various towns based on findings in 2014:

Barrington: Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Adopt flood damage prevention law and amend floodplain development standards; create riparian buffers; and amend cluster subdivsion regulations.

Benton: Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Amend flood damage prevention law; Adopt on-site wastewater treatment regulations; create riparian buffers; and amend cluster subdivsion regulations.

Jerusalem: Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Amend flood damage prevention law; create riparian buffers; and Update subdivision regulations

Milo: Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Amend flood damage prevention law; create riparian buffers; and Create subdivision regulations

Potter: Revise comprehensive plan; Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Create flood damage prevention law; create riparian buffers; and Amend subdivision regulations

Starkey: Revise comprehensive plan to include an emphasis on the protection of local water resources; Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Amend flood damage prevention law; Create riparian buffers; and Amend cluster subdivsion regulations.

Torrey: Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Strengthen flood damage prevention law; Adopt on-site wastewater treatment regulations; Amend subdivision regulations;

And here are some recommendations for villages:

Dresden: Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Amend flood damage prevention law; Adopt on-site wastewater treatment regulations; create riparian buffers; and amend cluster subdivsion regulations.

Dundee: Revise comprehensive plan to include an emphasis on the protection of local water resources; Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Amend flood damage prevention law; Adopt on-site wastewater treatment regulations; create riparian buffers; and amend cluster subdivsion regulations.

Penn Yan: Develop a stormwater management ordinance to minimize erosion; Develop green infrastructure standards; Create flood damage prevention law; Create riparian buffers; and Create subdivision regulations.