Canandaigua Lake health project springs into action

Julie Sherwood
The Chronicle Express

You could say the Naples Creek watershed—the largest in the Canandaigua Lake basin—is the worst watershed for the lake. At 31,000 acres, it contains the highest sediment load of all 17 Canandaigua Lake tributaries and is a major contributor of phosphorus to the lake.

Why is this important to know?

Too much phosphorus pollutes the lake. When phosphorus levels rise, the risk of blue-green algae also rises. Many factors contribute to toxic algae blooms, but keeping down primary nutrients like phosphorus is a good way to fight it.

The latest in an ongoing project to protect the lake—in addition to eliminating flooding and restoring wetlands—is the completion of an under-road watercourse. Giant culverts installed under Parish Cross Road in Naples are channelling runoff from streams and gullies into a vast wildlife management area where sediment and nutrients like phosphorus will be naturally filtered before reaching Naples Creek and Canandaigua Lake.

Two conservationists closely involved with the project, Canandaigua Lake Watershed Program Manager Kevin Olvany and Jim Howe, director of the Central & Western New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, recently showed off the progress made with the project. In addition to The Nature Conservancy and Canandaigua Lake Watershed Council, partners in the effort include the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the town of Naples.

The concept behind the project is the use of science and nature to solve a long-standing problem with flooding and to restore wetlands and the natural floodplain—which are all necessary for healthy wildlife habitat and to improve and protect the water quality of the lake, Olvany and Howe said.

In 2016, The Nature Conservancy bought an 85-acre parcel along Naples Creek. That property, along with adjoining state lands at High Tor Wildlife Management Area, is the focus area for restoration. The work involves removing berms to reconnect the creek to its floodplain. The culverts under Parish Cross Road are key to the entire operation, dispatching drainage under the road and into wetlands.

For now, the new culvert sections just look like muddy ditches. Olvany explained how the project is specifically engineered to control runoff and how the area will be seeded to produce friendly wetland growth such as cattails.

Wetland and floodplain restoration is a big deal throughout the entire Canandaigua Lake watershed and other areas of the Finger Lakes where water quality is at stake because wetlands have been disappearing over time. A similar method is being used with the Honeoye Inlet Restoration Project south of Honeoye Lake in Ontario County.