Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Finger Lakes Watershed

 flow map

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.