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For Release: Thursday, July 18, 2013

DEC Awards USGS $116K in EPF Funds to Study Tug Hill Aquifer

Project Will Provide Important Information on Water Quality and Capacity in the Region; Assist with Land Use Planning and Protection of Resources like the Salmon River Fish Hatchery

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced that it has awarded $116,500 from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to perform a characterization of the northern and central portions of the Tug Hill aquifer, located in Jefferson and Oswego counties.

Tug Hill's sole source aquifer is an important source of drinking water and supports a premier sports fishery in the North Country. The USGS survey, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2014, is critical to studying the aquifer's capacity and quality, as well as its limitations. The overall project cost is $212,286, with USGS providing $95,768 for the study.

"The Tug Hill region is renowned for its fishing opportunities, attracting thousands of anglers and tourists each year," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. "This assessment of the Tug Hill aquifer will help support continued residential development and economic growth, while sustaining its world class Salmon River habitat. The information gathered through this study will assist with future planning efforts and ensure that the Tug Hill will retain its unique character and attract tourists and businesses."

Anthony G. Collins, President of Clarkson University and co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council (REDC), said, "The North Country REDC region is geographically the largest region in the State and fresh water is one of our most abundant natural resources. Fresh water is a critical asset to our tourism and recreation infrastructure, as well as the drinking supply for our communities. The scientific data derived from this study will provide the basis for future decisions that ensure we are stewarding this resource for its most effective use today as well as for future generations."

John Bartow, Executive Director of the Tug Hill Commission said, "We are grateful to DEC and USGS for continuing to advance this study of the aquifer. It will provide the necessary science and data for local decision makers on the allocation of aquifer water resources as demand rises. How this resource is allocated is critical to the future of the environment and rural economy of the Tug Hill region."

Water demand in the Tug Hill region has been growing and could be further stressed by additional aquifer withdrawals, including potential demands from new business ventures in the region, as well as impacts from other factors such as climate change and sprawling communities.

The region is also home to DEC's Salmon River Hatchery in Altmar, Oswego County, which supports a multi-million dollar sports fishery that depends on a reliable supply of high quality water from the Salmon River and the central Tug Hill aquifer. The Salmon River has the highest rate of natural reproduction of Chinook salmon of any tributary to Lake Ontario, and recent studies by the USGS Tunison Labs have revealed the first documented reproduction of Atlantic salmon in the watershed since the late 1800s.

Information generated from this study will help DEC, local government, water managers, businesses and homeowners make water-wise conservation-based decisions and ensure safe drinking water supplies, adequate water resources for economic development and healthy aquatic environments. Such decision-making is consistent with New York's obligations under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

This study builds on years of work and collaboration among regional organizations including the Tug Hill Commission, the Jefferson and Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and the USGS to collect data to develop groundwater-flow models of the aquifer. This data, along with new hydrogeologic information and field data, will be used to complete a comprehensive assessment of the aquifer's geology, size, water quality, and surface water and groundwater interactions.

As part of this project, the USGS needs to identify homeowners who are willing to allow sampling of their well water. If interested, please contact Edward Bugliosi at 607-266-0217 x3005 (or email ebuglios@usgs.gov). Wells selected for sampling will be determined based on well-design characteristics and local geology. Select wells will be sampled for common water-quality constituents. USGS will provide a report on study findings to DEC by September 2014.

The Tug Hill Aquifer characterization study is an example of an ecosystem-based conservation management project designed to better understand complex environmental systems and how they can be sustainably managed to maximize ecosystem function and human use. DEC's Great Lakes program utilizes an ecosystem-based management approach to watershed planning to restore and protect New York's Great Lakes basin.

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