Restoring the health of Seneca and Keuka Lakes after years of deteriorating conditions caused by invasive species, various sources of pollution, and most recently algal blooms — some that produce toxins — will require the efforts of people who live, work on and enjoy the land inside a 710 square mile area.

About 60 of those people gathered in the Geneva Town Hall Oct. 29 to hear about the plan being developed to guide the management and protection of the Seneca and Keuka Lakes watershed.

The plan — a Nine Element Plan — is a watershed management process that lays out the actions to restore and protect a watershed. The effort is being led by a project development group with representatives from Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, Keuka Lake Association, Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization, Keuka Watershed Improvement Cooperative, and other organizations. A grant from the New York State Department of State combined with local funds from the organizations above and from Corning Inc., Chemung, Ontario, Schuyler, Steuben, and Yates Counties is paying for the project.

A Nine Element Plan, which builds on previous research and plans, is a process to achieve restoration, protection, and management of a water resource. A 9E plan is necessary for a watershed to be eligible for future state funding.

The plan’s framework is prescribed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to:

• Identify the sources of pollution that need to be controlled

• Identify water quality goals

• Identify best management practices needed

• Describe the technical and financial assistance needed

• Describe the outreach efforts to stakeholders and how their input was incorporated into the plan

• Establish an implementation schedule for best management practices

• Describe the interim, measurable milestones for tracking and assessing best management implementation.

• Set criteria for determining whether load reductions are being achieved and what adaptive measures are needed.

• Describe monitoring used to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan.

The aim of the Oct. 29 meeting was to update stakeholders on progress and recruit volunteers to serve as representatives of the watershed community on the Project Advisory Committee (PAC). That group will review draft components of the plan and provide direct feedback and/or additional information.

A consultant, EcoLogic, has been working with the project development committee, using data that has been collected from the watershed over the years by different groups. EcoLogic is an aquatic and watershed science consultant based in Cazenovia. 

As work progresses, the plan will be presented to the PAC, and it will be presented to the general public at specific outreach meetings. Those public meetings will provide a way for all stakeholders to comment on components of the plan. While the prescribed process requires three of these meetings, the project development committee is planning to hold nine meetings because of the size of the watershed area.

Ian Smith, Seneca Watershed Steward and Project Manager, has experience from his previous work in the Chesapeake Bay, where he says all areas are now either stable or improving after the implementation of a similar type of plan.

“If they can make it work, we can make it work,” he said.

The Seneca/Keuka group has resources to build the plan from, including watershed management plans for each lake individually and data from various studies of the lakes and tributaries.

The Canandaigua lake Watershed Council is also working on the development of a 9E plan based on an existing Watershed Management Plan established in 2014. 

Other Finger Lakes where 9E plans are in development include Skaneateles and Owasco.

Nine Element Plans for Genesee River and Black River watersheds have been approved by NYSDEC.

For information about the planning process, contact Smith at 315-781-4559 or ismith@hws.edu or Keuka Watershed Manager Colby Petersen at 315-536-5188 or Colby@ycsoilwater.com.