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Lake Source Cooling monitoring of Cayuga Lake could become part of wider system

Cornell's monitoring of Cayuga Lake water quality, required by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), could become part of a much more extensive lake monitoring system. That is, if the several organizations currently monitoring the lake and surrounding watershed can figure out how to work together and find the funding they all need.

As a step toward such collaboration, the Cayuga Lake Watershed Intermunicipal Organization -- a group representing cities and towns around the lake -- convened a meeting of several monitoring organizations Sept. 26 at the Six Mile Creek Winery just outside the Ithaca city limits. The group was formed two years ago to create a Cayuga Lake Watershed Management Plan.

While much public attention has been focused on Cornell's monitoring in connection with its Lake Source Cooling (LSC) project, many organizations are also monitoring the lake's water quality:

• Cornell collects water samples every two weeks at several locations near the southern end of the lake. The program is aimed primarily at measuring the effect of LSC.

• Todd Cowen, Cornell professor of civil and environmental engineering, maintains the automated Remote Underwater Sampling Station (RUSS), just beyond the end of the shallow underwater shelf at the south end of the lake to make temperature and other measurements at various depths.

• The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, an organization of citizens, businesses, associations and local governments, monitors Six Mile Creek and deep-water sites in the lake.

• The nonprofit Community Science Institute of Ithaca uses citizen volunteers to collect water samples from Six Mile Creek and other tributaries to the lake.

• The Cayuga Lake Floating Classroom takes middle school, high school and college students on boat trips to collect and analyze water samples. A spokesman for the project suggests that since their sampling is done at the same locations every time and with scientific rigor, its data could feed into a comprehensive monitoring program.

Monitoring programs typically measure water temperature and such components of the water as phosphorus, ammonia, nitrates, dissolved oxygen, suspended solids, chlorophyll, coliform bacteria and toxic chemicals.

The Tompkins County Water Resources Council (WRC), working with Cornell, is developing a plan in which LSC would discontinue some of its monitoring locations and use the cost savings to create a wider monitoring system.

"There is, I believe, consensus that the LSC permit is due for change," said Roxanna Johnston, watershed coordinator and lab director for the City of Ithaca Water Treatment Plant and vice chair of the WRC. The new monitoring plan is being developed with input from the state DEC, which administers the current plan in connection with Cornell's permit to operate the LSC facility. That permit comes up for renewal in March 2008.

Exact locations are not set, Johnston said, but some LSC sites would be retained, RUSS data would be tied in, and instruments to monitor water velocity would be added to study water circulation and day and night changes in the south basin.

Nearly every organization making a presentation at the Sept. 26 forum included requests for additional funding to expand its program. Not formally mentioned were still other monitorings by the city of Ithaca, several county health departments, the DEC and Cornell faculty members.

Getting the maze of overlapping organizations to work together may be an unrealistic dream, but Darby Riley, environmental planner for the town of Lansing and organizer of the forum, is optimistic. "The meeting was a great opportunity for just contacting and connecting," she said.

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