Watersheds, Landuse and Pollution

The Finger Lakes Region


Created by glacial ice and meltwater erosion approximately 15,000 years ago, the eleven Finger Lakes: Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco, contain 8.1 trillion gallons of water (30.8km3 ), and occupy a 2,630 square mile (4,970 km2), 14-county region. The basins eventually drain into Lake Ontario to the north via the Genesee and Oswego Rivers . These lakes are a source of Class AA drinking water to the 1.5 million residents in the surrounding communities. For example, Skaneateles and Otisco Lakes provide drinking water for the City of Syracuse ; Hemlock and Canadice Lakes provide drinking water for the City of Rochester ; and, Seneca Lake provides drinking water for nearly 100,000 local residents with total withdrawals of nearly 200 million gallons of water per day from the Finger Lakes . The natural beauty of the Finger Lakes region attracts approximately 22 million tourists annually. The tourism generates over $2 billion annually with significant growth projected for the immediate future. Water-based recreation, sport fisheries, wildlife habitat, and a diverse industrial and agricultural sector, that includes a renowned wine and grape industry, comprise the important economic, social, ecological and occasionally competing environmentally attributes of the Finger Lakes Region. Thus, these lakes must be protected from numerous threats to water quality.

Water Quality

Water quality is a concern because water is a critical resource that is easily abused and polluted. Pollutants are subdivided into point and non-point sources. Point source pollutants are discharged from an identifiable spot, like a sewer outlet, a factory drain pipe, or power plant cooling-water outflow. Non-point source pollutants are more diffuse; examples include runoff from road salt or fertilizer after their application. Typically point source pollutants are easier to regulate, monitor, and control. For example, the municipal wastewater treatment plants must permit their discharge of wastes into neighboring bodies of water. The rural landscape and agricultural land use activities dominate the Finger Lake watersheds with agriculture covering 46.5% of the watersheds, forests 38.3%, lakes 9.4%, and urban areas 4.3%. The land use suggests that the primary water quality threats are organic wastes and agricultural runoff.

Source: A PRELIMINARY WATER QUALITY STUDY OF SELECTED FINGER LAKES, NEW YORK. John Halfman and Kate Bush Hobart and William Smith Colleges 2006.


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