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Finger Lakes Watershed

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The Finger Lakes Watershed of central and western New York is the combined area of the 11 glacially formed freshwater lakes and their watersheds. It is approximately 4,600 square miles, extends into all or parts of 13 counties, and includes three of the ten largest lakes within New York State. The Finger Lakes Watershed is contained within the Seneca-Oneida-Oswego and Genesee River drainage watersheds which ultimately flow north to Lake Ontario.

The lakes vary significantly in maximum depth - 9m for Honeoye Lake and ~ 200m for Seneca Lake; surface area - Canadice Lake (1 square mile) to Seneca Lake at 68 square miles; and volume - Seneca Lake has 400 times the volume of Honeoye Lake. Some lakes have watersheds that are predominately forested while others have watersheds dominated by agriculture. The amount of urban development varies throughout the Finger Lakes Watershed, but all have at least partially developed shorelines, with the exception of Canadice and Hemlock lakes due to source water protection measures by the City of Rochester and New York State.

The lakes are multiuse resources for drinking water sources, fishing, swimming, and other forms of recreation. The lakes and rivers of the region supply drinking water to more than 2 million people. Except for Honeoye Lake, the other Finger Lakes are used as public drinking water supplies, serving 1.5 million customers. The lakes are also used extensively for private water supplies, via individual lake intakes or shoreline wells, although the NYS Department of Health does not recommend this practice (leaves DEC website).

Most of the Finger Lakes are considered high-quality, two-story fisheries, containing both cold water (trout) and warm water (bass) fisheries. The Finger Lakes provide excellent open water fishing opportunities and because of their comparatively easy public access, many of the lakes give non-boating anglers good opportunities to catch a variety of species.

The Finger Lakes Watershed Program

In response to an increase in algae blooms affecting the eastern Finger Lakes in 2016, DEC's Finger Lakes Watershed program was formed, tasked with improving water quality across the watershed. Designed to mirror and compliment the successful Hudson River Estuary and Mohawk River programs, the Finger Lakes Watershed Program fostered partnerships regionwide to manage and protect the natural resources of the watershed for a sustainable future. The Finger Lakes Watershed Program is funded through the Environmental Protection Fund. These funds are provided to facilitate implementation of the Finger Lakes Watershed Action Agenda.

Through the establishment of the Finger Lakes Watershed Program, DEC initiated a focused effort to conserve, preserve, and restore the environmental quality of the Finger Lakes and their watersheds, while helping to manage the resources of the region for a sustainable future. The Finger Lakes Watershed program acts as a coordinator of activities to achieve these goals. The success of this program requires the involvement of stakeholders and the creation of partnerships with established programs and organizations throughout the watershed.

Finger Lakes - Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance (FLLOWPA)

The Finger Lakes - Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance (FLLOWPA) is a coalition of 25 New York State counties in the Lake Ontario Watershed.

FLLOWPA grew out of the former Finger Lakes Aquatic Vegetation Control Program (AVCP), initiated in 1984 in Cayuga County, New York to address surface water quality concerns. The program subsequently grew to include 18 area counties encompassing a multitude of water resources. When the AVCP was created, there was significant concern about water resource impairments stemming from cultural eutrophication of the region's lakes and waterways hence the control of nuisance aquatic vegetation was a major program emphasis during the 1980s. Through the 1990s, the program became more watershed-focused, with an emphasis on pollution prevention through control of non-point sources. In 1994, a proposal was developed by the member counties to more explicitly identify holistic, grassroots watershed management as the primary focus of the existing program. This proposal was implemented during 1996, resulting in a new program name, the Finger Lakes - Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance (FLLOWPA), and a membership including 25 New York State counties wholly or partially in the Lake Ontario watershed.

Currently, the FLLOWPA membership includes the following New York State counties in the Lake Ontario drainage basin: Allegany, Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Genesee, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Orleans, Oswego, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tompkins, Wayne, Wyoming, Yates. The New York State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Water (NYSDEC DOW), provides annual funding to FLLOWPA for implementation of water management projects to protect and enhance water resources by:

  • Promoting the sharing of information, data, ideas, and resources pertaining to the management of watersheds in New York's Lake Ontario Basin
  • Fostering dynamic and collaborative watershed management programs and partnerships
  • Emphasizing a holistic, ecosystem-based approach to water quality improvement and protection

FLLOWPA is governed by the Water Resources Board (WRB), which consists of a duly appointed representative of each county. The WRB uses FLLOWPA's annual EPF appropriations as the basis to allocate funds to its 25 member counties. Each year WRB divides the appropriations into 26 shares. Twenty-five equal shares are allocated to the 25 member counties. A 26th share is allocated to the WRB for program administration and coordination. The current EPF appropriations for FLLOWPA is $2.5 million.

FLLOWPA Member Counties

Each member county is required to prepare an annual workplan, which is reviewed by the NYSDEC DOW staff for consistency with the general water quality/quantity goals and priorities of the Department. The workplans submitted by FLLOWPA member counties address local water quality needs by implementing projects in the following areas:

  • Installation of agricultural best management practices
  • Water quality monitoring, flooding resilience
  • Public education and outreach
  • Eradication of invasive species

Each member county prepares and submits final reports to be approved by NYSDEC for each year of funding. FLLOWPA-funded projects must be completed in the Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Drainage Basin (see map).

FLLOWPA has provided financial and technical assistance on hundreds of water quality improvement projects, some of which are highlighted in the Fundamentals Newsletters (leaves DEC website). More information on FLLOWPA and current water quality programs in member counties can be found on the FLLOWPA website (leaves DEC website).