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For Release: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

DEC Issues Final Permit for Cornell University's Lake Source Cooling Facility

Final Permit Includes $2.1 Million for Study of Cayuga Lake and TMDL

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued the final State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit to address discharges from Cornell University's Lake Source Cooling (LSC) facility, the agency announced today. Under the terms of the final permit, Cornell University will fund a $2.1 million study to identify the sources and impacts of the nutrient phosphorus. The study will support DEC's development of a total maximum daily load (TMDL), which will provide a road map for phosphorus reductions in the lake. The permit also includes interim limits on the amount of phosphorus the Cornell LSC facility discharges pending the results of the study.

"Excess phosphorus, and resultant algae blooms, is the largest cause of impaired water in New York," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. "DEC, Cornell University and Cayuga Lake stakeholders are working together to identify and understand the sources of phosphorus and what can be done to limit phosphorus from entering the lake. Cornell has agreed to fund the $2.1 million study that will be a significant source of information for developing a phosphorus loading budget and guide efforts to improve water quality in the south end of the Lake. DEC and Cornell also will work jointly with other partners to update the Cayuga Lake plan to further enhance the water quality and overall watershed health."

The NYS Water Resources Institute and other Cornell faculty will work with local and regional stakeholders in developing sound science and community-based action agendas using the best tools and practices for protecting Cayuga Lake to be included in the updated watershed plan.

The south end of Cayuga Lake has been identified as an impaired water body due, in part, to high levels of phosphorus. There are multiple sources of phosphorus pollution in the Cayuga Lake watershed, such as municipal wastewater discharges and urban/storm water runoff. Increasing development, stream erosion, road bank erosion and agricultural activity are also potential sources of phosphorus to the lake and its tributaries and will be evaluated.

DEC will use the study results to prepare a TMDL for the southern end of Cayuga Lake. This plan will take a comprehensive look at all sources of phosphorus and help address longstanding impairment to the south end of the lake. The TMDL will assign phosphorus allocations to all pollutant sources, including Cornell University.

Cornell's Lake Source Cooling facility draws water from Cayuga Lake and uses it to cool campus buildings and then discharges back into the lake. Because the water withdrawn from the lake contains phosphorus, the discharge from the cooling facility also contains phosphorus.

Increasing concentrations of phosphorus and chlorophyll have led to a decline in water quality in Cayuga Lake over the past decade. The extent to which the LSC facility contributes to the decline in Cayuga Lake's water quality is unknown. Phosphorus in water has been linked to reductions in oxygen necessary for fish to breathe and an increase in algae that turns waterbodies green and reduces oxygen levels.

In October 2012, the public had the opportunity to comment on the draft SPDES permit, and DEC received 21 comments. DEC carefully considered these comments in developing the final permit. A summary of DEC's responses to public comments (PDF) (253 KB) is available on DEC's website.

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