Lake Owasco Phosphorus Plan Focuses on Agricultural Lands | Local News | Auburn, NY | Auburnpub.com

A state-funded science-based plan to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into Lake Owasco is nearing completion, and a recently released project finds farmland is by far the biggest source of this problematic nutrient. .

The draft Lake Owasco Watershed Nine Element Plan for Phosphorus Reduction, often referred to as Plan 9E, will be the subject of a special public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, July 25 at Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, 1879 W. Genesee Rue Saint-Road, Aurèle.

The 109-page report has been in the works for several years with the Cayuga County Department of Planning and Economic Development as the lead agency, and numerous public and private agencies and experts involved. EcoLogic LLC, a Cazenovia-based consulting firm, prepared the draft report, and funding came from the State Department through the Environmental Protection Fund. The state Department of Environmental Conservation was also heavily involved in the process.

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One of the main goals of Plan 9E was to use scientific modeling to produce “quantitative analysis of phosphorus sources and reductions required to meet the goals.” The draft plan notes that “Phosphorus is the key element affecting the growth of aquatic plants, algae, and cyanobacteria in Lake Owasco, as it is in New York State’s Finger Lakes (NYS Understanding and managing phosphorus inputs from the lake’s watershed is critical to protecting this valuable resource for future generations.”

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Scientific models in Plan 9E revealed that 4% of the phosphorus reaching the lake comes from septic tanks and 2% comes from the two sewage treatment facilities in the catchment (operated by the villages of Moravia and Groton).

The rest, 94%, comes from non-point sources in which nutrients simply flow from the land to lake tributaries or the lake itself. Of this 94%, 53% comes from cropland and 37% from runoff from hay/pasture, bringing the total agricultural load to 90%.

The plan describes the proposed solutions to reduce the total phosphorus load by 30%.

“While this goal is ambitious, model projections and local engagement indicate that it is achievable,” the plan says. “The expansion of cover crops over greater agricultural area is an accepted practice that has voluntary participants and increased funding allocations, for example. Model projections indicate that the expansion of cover crops and other agricultural crops (best management practices), combined with efforts to achieve the objectives of the 9E plan.”

Dr. Adam Effler, executive director of the Lake Owasco Watershed Management Board, said the good news about Plan 9E’s findings and recommendations is that practices that should help reduce phosphorus from the lake are growing. more common on local farms. The Watershed Board is an intermunicipal agency with representatives from the towns in the watershed and the City of Auburn, and it administers the watershed inspection program.


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The use of cover crops, plants such as ryegrass and oats, on agricultural land during the off-season significantly reduces soil erosion and has shown some benefits for the health of the soil itself.

“It’s really grown broadly across the watershed,” he told the Citizen last week. “It’s a practice that farmers are really adopting.”

Effler said a big lesson from the 9E plan is that results are achievable, and he noted that farmers understand that they benefit from keeping nutrients on their soils and not in waterways.

“It really is a win-win scenario,” he said.

Plan 9E requires final state approval by DEC and DOS. The county has until the end of August to submit the finalized plan.

Plan 9E is one of three complementary lake protection initiatives nearing completion. Proposed updates to watershed rules and regulations, which date back to the 1980s, are undergoing a final review led by the state Department of Health. And the city of Auburn recently released a draft of its source water protection plan.

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