Cornell to partner with DEC, local stakeholders on Cayuga Lake water quality

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Simeon Moss

Public comment period extended

The DEC has extended the public comment period for the draft permit until Dec. 19. Visit the Cayuga Lake Modeling Project website for more information, including an FAQ.

The New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) will work with Cornell and local stakeholders to do a comprehensive study of Cayuga Lake, according to a DEC announcement, Oct. 19. As part of a draft permit for Cornell's Lake Source Cooling project, the university will undertake a $2.1 million study to model the sources and impacts of the nutrient phosphorus.

The DEC will use the model to develop a total maximum daily load (TMDL) allocation for phosphorus in the lake's southern end. This is a regulatory process designed to bring southern Cayuga Lake into compliance with water quality standards and goals, by setting maximum levels on phosphorus inputs.

"The modeling that Cornell will undertake in support of the TMDL will contribute decisively to a broader cooperative effort with lake stakeholders to study the Cayuga Lake Watershed to enhance the ecological health of the lake and its watershed," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said.

The DEC is also accepting comments on the draft State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that addresses water releases from the Lake Source Cooling facility. Comments on the permit draft must be submitted in writing to the DEC within 30 days.

The draft permit limits phosphorus discharges from the Lake Source Cooling facility for an interim period while Cornell uses extensive resources to develop the model. Sources of phosphorus pollution into Cayuga Lake include municipal wastewater discharges and urban/storm water runoff. Other potential phosphorus inputs into the lake and its tributaries -- such as development, stream and road bank erosion, and agricultural activities -- will also be considered. High phosphorus levels have impaired the water quality in the south end of Cayuga Lake, according to the DEC.

Cornell's Lake Source Cooling facility draws water from Cayuga Lake, uses it to cool campus buildings, via large heat exchangers, and then returns the water to the lake. Since the water withdrawn from the lake and returned to the lake by the facility contains phosphorus, the facility is one of many discharge sources that contain phosphorous. No phosphorus is added to the water by the Lake Source Cooling facility.

In addition, the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell will partner with the DEC and local and regional stakeholders to develop science and community-based action agendas using best practices and tools for protecting Cayuga Lake, which will be included in an updated Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration and Protection Plan. The revised Cayuga Lake watershed plan will apply these new action items to address emerging threats to water resources. The TMDL and the updated plan will form the scientific basis for priority actions going forward.

Updates to the watershed plan will be supported by a $29,700 Department of State Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program grant to the town of Ithaca, on behalf of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Intermunicipal Organization.


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Krishna Ramanujan