Officials, stakeholders react as Canandaigua, Seneca lakes excluded from Cuomo’s 12th budget proposal

Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his 12th proposal for the 2018 budget.

Activists and elected officials alike are concerned that both Seneca and Canandaigua lakes were excluded from the proposal.

It involves implementing a $65 million 4-point initiative to aggressively combat harmful algal blooms in Upstate New York that threaten the recreational use of lakes that are important to upstate tourism, as well as sources of drinking water.

Twelve priority lakes that are vulnerable to HABs and are critical sources of drinking water and vital tourism drivers were chosen as priority waterbodies in the proposal.

However, there were a couple noticeable exceptions. Both Canandaigua and Seneca lakes were excluded from the proposal.

New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said he hopes the conditions of the proposal will evolve to include both Seneca and Canandaigua lakes. “The governor’s 12th State of the State proposal regarding harmful algal blooms (HABs) fails to include Canandaigua and Seneca Lakes,” said Leader Kolb on Friday.

As recently as this past September, Canandaigua Lake appeared on the New York State DEC HAB notification list, and Kolb says that while Seneca Lake did not, it also had ‘serious problems’ with HABs in other years, according to Kolb.

Yvonne Taylor, who is the vice president of Gas Free Seneca, and Seneca Lake Guardian, A Waterkeeper Affiliate expressed disappointment in Seneca Lake’s absence from the program. “Failure to include Seneca Lake in this effort is a major flaw, considering that Seneca Lake contains 4.2 trillion gallons of fresh drinking water that over 100,000 people rely on,” she said of the proposal. “Seneca Lake experienced HABs on many parts of the lake over the past two summers, and it is an extremely serious problem that must be addressed,” Taylor added.

“While granting $1 million to seven farms in the Finger Lakes region was a good move, we feel strongly that Seneca Lake should have been included in this initiative as well,” she concluded.

The State’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team, co-chaired by DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker, will convene four Regional Summits to bring together nation-leading experts with Steering Committees of local stakeholders established for each lake.

The Rapid Response Team, national experts, and local stakeholders will collaboratively develop Action Plans to identify contributing factors fueling HABs and the state will provide $500,000 per lake to develop immediate action plans to reduce sources of pollution that spark algal blooms.

Joseph Campbell, president of Gas Free Seneca and Seneca Lake Guardian, A Waterkeeper Affiliate said that he’s concerned about the politics of Seneca Lake’s exclusion. “The cynic in me looks at the lakes that are being named as either being a drinking water resource for a large city or weathy community. I also wonder about the demographics politically,” he explained. “Chataugua Lake is going to play a big part in the 2018 election for [the] 23rd District.”

The state will provide nearly $60 million in grant funding to implement the Action Plans, including new monitoring and treatment technologies.

Among those bodies of water locally included:

– Conesus, Honeoye and Chautaqua lakes, which make up the ‘Western Group’; and
– Owasco, Skaneateles, and Cayuga lakes, which make up the ‘Central Group’.

A number of other lakes, including bodies of water in the northern portion of New York were part of the proposal.

“Protecting water quality is a top priority and through these actions and funding, we are providing direct assistance to communities to ensure their water resources remain clean,” Governor Cuomo said. “This comprehensive program will continue New York’s national leadership in responding to the threat of harmful algal blooms and implement new and innovative strategies to safeguard our clean water for future generations.”

Kolb, who is actively campaigning for the 2018 race for governor, added that more effort is needed to continue protecting local lakes.

“In an effort to further protect the state’s lakes, which are essential to tourism and critical drinking water resources, I encourage the governor, DEC and DOH – as part of the Rapid Response Team – to reevaluate the conditions and vulnerabilities of these two Finger Lakes and include them in the proposal,” Kolb concluded.

The initiative will bring together researchers from across the nation, including experts from Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Vermont, as well as the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY Stony Brook Center for Clean Water Technology, the New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee to share best practices and develop innovative solutions that can be replicated in water bodies across the state.

The Cuomo administration says this effort builds on the State’s $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act investments in clean water infrastructure and water quality protection.

Also on FingerLakes1.com