Canandaigua ranks among the cleanest lakes

Julie Sherwoo
Bruce Gilman, professor of environmental conservation at Finger Lakes Community College, gives a portion of a presentation on the water quality status of Canandaigua Lake hosted by the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association at the Hurley Building. Canandaigua's water is among the cleanest in the Finger Lakes region.

Canandaigua Lake remains among the cleanest lakes in the Finger Lakes region based on overall water quality. That ranking, which comes out of a study involving Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, puts Canandaigua near the top of the list along with Skaneateles and Keuka lakes.

“High-quality water is typically here in Canandaigua Lake,” said Bruce Gilman, professor of environmental conservation at Finger Lakes Community College. Gilman has been sampling the lake routinely since 1996, testing for various factors including clarity and phosphorus.

Gilman and Canandaigua Lake Watershed Program Manager Kevin Olvany presented the latest findings on water quality during a joint presentation Thursday. About 50 people turned out at the Hurley Building to hear the latest assessment, which included a note about the Institute’s high ranking of Canandaigua in comparison with other Finger Lakes.

In tracking water quality from 1996 through 2014, fluctuations in clarity and phosphorus levels were largely driven by storm events and the life cycle of the zebra mussel, an invasive freshwater creature that lived on the bottom of the lake. After a mass die-off in 2001, phosphorus that had been stored in the tissues of the mussels was released into the lake. Following the fallout of the zebra mussel crash, in 2010 the lake had its “lowest concentration of phosphorus for our years on record,” said Gilman.

The presentations also included discussion about how to maintain the lake’s water quality. So far the lake has not seen toxins from blue-green algae, as have some other lakes such as Honeoye, but there is cause for concern in other areas. For example, an invasive specie called water chestnut that drops sharp seeds and can propagate for up to a dozen years is in West River, at the south end of the lake. Gilman said he and others including FLCC students are working with a Yates County program to remove the invasive plant.

The Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association is involved in several projects to protect the lake. One project has citizens working at boat launches to educate and remind boaters about the state law requiring proper handling of boats to keep invasive species out of the lake.

Olvany talked about the dangers from runoff that washes fertilizer and other chemicals into the lake. Agriculture is a big contributing factor to runoff danger, and Olvany said that is why many entities including the county Soil and Water Conservation District are working with farmers to prevent problems.

Citizens can help by following best practices like landscaping with features that control runoff, such as building rain gardens and using the most environmentally-friendly lawn treatments that avoid fertilizers. Also advised: Not washing your car at home, and bagging dog waste to be thrown in the trash. Olvany said such practices have a positive, cumulative effect to help protect the watershed.