Seneca-Keuka Watershed plan to be presented April 25

Seneca-Keuka Watershed Partnership
Keuka Lake and the Keuka Lake Outlet in the foreground, with Seneca Lake in the background, are the subject of a watershed plan partnership to create a Nine-Element Plan designed to improve water quality in Seneca and Keuka lakes. That plan will be the subject of a public session April 25.

SENECA-KEUKA LAKES — As the melting snowpack and late winter/early spring rains flow into Seneca and Keuka Lakes, final details are being added to the Nine Element Plan for the Seneca-Keuka Watershed with a goal to have a plan that is fully approved by two state departments in place in time for this year’s round of grant funding.

Seneca-Keuka Watershed Partnership

A plan that has been reviewed and approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of State will benefit municipalities and organizations that are seeking funds for projects that will improve the vast watershed’s water quality. The plan will include best practices for working landscapes such as timberlands, croplands, and grazing lands; wastewater management; hydrologic resilience (movement of water); invasive species management; and local laws.

The Keuka and Seneca Lake watershed

The plan’s draft vision statement says, “The Seneca-Keuka Watershed Nine Element plan will lead to improvements in water quality that restore natural ecosystems and protect human health, thereby maximizing the economic, social, and cultural value of these threatened resources. The means for achieving this will ensure preservation and enhancement of the agricultural vitality of the region as well as other highly valued natural resources that together define the character of the landscape and community.”

The public will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment on the plan at a meeting on April 25 at 6 p.m. in the Yates County Office Building.

Ian Smith, Seneca Lake Watershed Steward, says because there are several sub-watersheds involved, the plan will include strategies and tools that can be tailored to address localized conditions and needs. He says continuous input from the public will be critical. “It’s not a process with an end date,” he says, adding that landowner participation is an important part of the process.

Colby Petersen, Keuka Lake Watershed Manager, and director of Yates County Soil & Water Conservation District, says the plan addresses watershed-wide actions that already have strong public support, such as hydrologic resilience measures that slow the movement of water, upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, preservation and conservation efforts, and erosion reduction. An erosion management project currently in the engineering phase will also provide recreational and educational opportunities because it will protect a portion of the Keuka Outlet Trail, he says.

Smith says the final, approved plan will be helpful for municipalities within the watershed as they write or update comprehensive plans and associated zoning regulations. Twenty-three percent of all the municipalities in the watershed do not have any zoning regulations, which can include requirements for development on steep slopes, construction and inspection of private septic systems, and more.

The Seneca Lake Watershed spans 712 square miles and stretches from the Town of Italy in western Yates County to the Town of Hector in eastern Schuyler County, and from the Town of Horseheads in Chemung County to the Town of Geneva in Ontario County. Seneca and Keuka lakes contain more than 50 percent of the water of the 11 Finger Lakes and they are joined by a natural waterway, the Keuka Outlet, historically known as Minnesetah River.

The project is sponsored with funding provided by the New York State Department of State under Title 11 of the Environmental Protection Fund. Additional funding is provided by Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization, Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, Keuka Watershed Improvement Cooperative, Keuka Lake Association, The Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Seneca County, Schuyler County, Ontario County, Yates County, Steuben County, and Corning Inc.

The Seneca-Keuka Watershed Partnership Executive Committee includes Mark Venuti (Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization), Dan Corbett (Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association), Steve Butchko (Keuka Watershed Improvement Cooperative), and Mark Morris (Keuka Lake Association) with Advisors Lisa Cleckner (Finger Lakes Institute), Ian Smith (Seneca Lake Watershed Steward), Colby Petersen (Keuka Watershed Manager) and Administrator Betsy Landre (Ontario County Planning Dept.) For more information about the Seneca-Keuka Watershed Partnership contact Ian Smith at 315-781-4559 or ismith@hws.edu, or Colby Petersen at 315-536-5188 or Colby@ycsoilwater.com.

What to know

WHAT: The Nine-Element plan, designed to improve water quality in Seneca and Keuka lakes will be the subject of a public session

WHEN: 6 p.m. April 25

DETAILS: The draft plan will be posted in late March at https://senecawatershedio.wordpress.com/9e/