Intersting article on OWLA's history by Dorothy Long - Syracuse Post-Standard.
Association has lake's best interest at heart through the Owasco Lake outlet near Groton, a popular area. The state DEC recently agreed to issue a draft permit limiting Groton's phosphate discharge to two pounds per day by 2010 when its new wastewater treatment plant is up and running. The 20-year-old Owasco Watershed Lake Association considers the rule a victory.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
By Dorothy Long
When NYS announced that it was going to build a prison just outside the village of Moravia, and town and village officials saw it as a sure way out of the economic slump the area had wallowed in for years.
With communities all over the region vying for a state prison, no one in Moravia wanted to endanger the deal by admitting the village's antiquated sewage treatment plant - which releases it's effluent into the Owasco Lake inlet - might not be able to handle the additional sewage from the prison.
But OWLA wanted assurance that the new prison wasn't going to be a new source of pollution.
"When the prisonwas proposed, as far as we were concerned, there was a void in how to handle the additional waste at the Moravia sewage treatment plant. We didn't believe it was big enough to handle it," Lattimore remembers.
OWL A's concerns caught the ear of the county health department, the city of Auburn and other local agencies. The state dug in its heals, Moravia stuck it's head in the sand and OWLA kept pushing.
"At first, the state didn't want to add anything to the plant. But we kept the pressure on and told them we thought they were wrong. They finally agreed and paid 100 percent of the upgrade," Lattimore said.
Moravia ended up with a prison and a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant.
And OWLA ended up with a reputation as a tough group that gets things done.
But the group didn't stop with a single success. They lobbied for weed cutters for the lake and began a program of water-quality testing that continues today.
But it wasn't the end of fighting with the state, especially the DEC.
OWLA's second president, Tony Hart took over in 1996.
"I got involved in setting up the water testing with Chris Ryan and Professor Harry Greer, from Cayuga Community College," Hart said. "OWL started in 1988. Now we have quite an extensive portfolio of data that is shared with agencies in the watershed."
OWLA volunteers collect samples from the lake, Hart said and volunteers at the Auburn sewage treatment plant do the testing.
While Hart was president the organization got involved in another program that didn't make it popular in the rural southern part of the county. They pushed for the county health department's septic system inspection regulations. "It was one of the first in the state to have a program that strict," Hart said. "Several other counties have modeled theirs after it."
OWLA began to work closely with agriculture, not as an opponent but as a partner, Hart said. "The large farms have the potential to be detrimental to the lake," he said. "But most of these guys are becoming very good stewards."
Then came Smith Corona. The business machine manufacturer planned to dump ground water used to flush a hazardous waste site in Groton directly into the inlet. Once again, OWLA joined forces with county agencies and state and local politicians to pressure the DEC to come up with a more satisfactory way of disposing of the ground water and, after a long fight, Smith Corona was forced to clean up the site without pouring pollutants into Owasco Lake.
Hart is still active with the group but enjoys working in the background. "Leading was tough. There were harsh critics and you have to keep people motivated." In 2002, when Hart stepped down, Alan Kozlowski stepped up.
Things went along quietly for a while. Testing continued and the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology at Cayuga Community College got involved. Then came the word that somehow Owasco Lake had slipped from one of the cleanest to possibly the dirtiest lakes in the Finger Lakes.
Kozlowski made the rounds of agencies and municipalities demanding a watershed inspector. It took time, and a state grant secured by state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, but finally the city of Auburn and the town of Owasco agreed to cooperate and created the position.
Trouble was brewing in Groton again. A fish farm was creating a phosphate problem there, but though the DEC agreed to require their water to go through the village sewage treatment plant, the agency planned to permit the sewage treatment plant to release 4 pounds of phosphates a day into the inlet. OWLA, Nozzolio and local residents argued if Moravia could limit its phosphates to 2 pounds a day, so could Groton.
Just in time for OWLA's 20th anniversary celebration in July, the DEC agreed to issue a draft permit limiting Groton's discharge to 2 pounds per day by 2010 when its new wastewater treatment plant is up and running. The public comment period on the draft permit ended Aug. 8 and the DEC is reviewing the comments.
Now, Kozlowski said, is the time to get everyone involved in protecting the lake.
"There is a lot at stake in this period. There is a lot of significant stuff going on now," Kozlowski said. "We need more inspectors and stewards to visit the towns. We need to rewrite the rules.
Fleming is rewriting its plan to be lake friendly. That's a milestone, one of the most encouraging." The towns that surround the lake will have the most responsibility for cleaning up the lake, Kozlowski said. And it looks like they are ready to step up. "I feel very good about where we are going now verses five or six years ago," he said.
Joe Wasileski became president the first of June. Wasileski lived his entire life on the lake, and when he heard about OWLA forming, he wanted to get involved. He went to the first meeting and asked to be on the board of directors. He was the first chair of the membership committee and in those early days, membership spiked to 1,500.
"We worked hard," he said. "Sometimes there were 10 to 15 people stuffing envelopes."
Membership has dropped to 500 but Wasileski hopes to see it rise again. On the first of July, OWLA held Owasco Lake Day, hoping to attract new members and bring back some that have dropped out.
"My job is to rally everybody," Wasileski said. " People want tourism and jobs to improve the economy. The lake has to be the epicenter of the whole thing."
Wasileski has been working on an eight-part plan for the future of OWLA.
He said his original plan was more of a dream plan but other members pulled him back to reality. Here are the goals:
1. WasileskiÕ Ö Work with the village of Groton to resolve problems at their sewage treatment plant.
2. See the municipalities in the south that make up the watershed, and in the north that use the water, work together to protect the lake.
3. Protecting Owasco Flats, at the south end of the lake and restoring its wetlands.
4. Work with local agriculture.
5. Help support the watershed inspector with volunteers helpers.
6. Help form the Owasco Watershed Network, allowing agencies to share data on line and with a DVD newsletter.
7. Educate everyone about Owasco Lake with curriculum for elementary and high school and Cayuga Community College students, and create a speakers' bureau to reach out to the community.
8. OWLA will work with Robert Johnson, of Cornell University, and Dr. John Halfman, from the Finger Lakes Institute, in hopes of controlling weed growth.
"My personal goal is to rally the community and everybody in the county to get them involved and help save Owasco Lake," Wasileski said.
© 2008 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.
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