In a proactive effort to protect the Owasco Lake watershed, a ditch stabilization project in Scipio has been successfully implemented through a collaborative partnership between the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, the town of Scipio and the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District. The project, which stabilized a steep length of ditch on Ensenore Road, aims to mitigate and prevent sediment runoff into nearby Owasco Lake. This sort of project is necessary to protect the long-term health of the watershed, and the cumulative impact of these and other similar watershed protection projects will serve to safeguard a cherished natural resource in Owasco Lake. The lake provides drinking water for over 47,000 local residents, offers recreational and commercial opportunities, and supports rich biodiversity in its aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

“We’re very pleased by the project on Ensenore; that had been one of the critical roads that OWLA had identified, and so it’s great to see the work that’s going in there,” said Ann Robson, current president of OWLA. “It was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to work together.”

Utilizing New York state grants, the Cayuga County SWCD was able to fund 75% of the project’s cost, with OWLA fully meeting the remaining 25% of funding required. The Town of Scipio Highway Department provided in-kind cost-sharing services by storing and hauling riprap, which are the angular stones used to stabilize the ditch. The riprap will prevent fast-moving water from scouring the ditch, while also slowing its speed at the same time, thereby allowing the water to drop any sediment it is carrying as it makes its way downhill.

OWLA’s funding for this project came from its Ditch Remediation Program, money which has been earmarked for ditch stabilization work: hydroseeding ditches within the watershed after they have been cleaned by highway departments, stabilizing ditches with riprap, and constructing check dams to slow water velocity. Funding for the program comes from various sources, including local charitable foundations, private business donations and individual donations.

Organizations like the Cayuga County SWCD apply for and receive grants from the government that are used to fund the majority of any given project (in this case, 75%). Typically, the grant will have cost-sharing requirements, which stipulate that a portion of total funding (in this case, 25%) must come from another source, and not other government dollars. Stakeholders, such as municipalities, property owners and local nonprofit organizations, must contribute the required cost-share in order to move implementation projects forward. Since OWLA’s Ditch Remediation Program is funded by private dollars, they are able to meet the 25% cost-share requirement with no restrictions. OWLA takes the pressure off of municipalities and property owners to supplement project funding.

“Owasco Lake is a gem of the Finger Lakes,” said Dan Kuhn, the OWLA member charged with directing the Ditch Remediation Program. “We get satisfaction in doing all we can to improve the quality of the water of Owasco Lake and to keep it pure and pristine. No one in the OWLA organization has deep pockets. The work we are able to do is dependent upon contributions of businesses, foundations and individuals who care about the quality of the lake. In turn, OWLA’s contributions help make it possible to secure funds from New York state for ditch remediation along highways, tributaries and fire lanes in the watershed.”

The Ensenore Road project has used up a majority of OWLA’s ditch remediation budget for this year, but there is still some money remaining for ditch work, and OLWA is pursuing additional funding to bolster its budget. When local highway departments scrape ditches within the Owasco Lake watershed, they typically will contact Cayuga County SWCD to apply hydroseed, but in this situation, they are subject to the same cost-share funding requirements as above. OWLA therefore encourages highway departments to let them know when a ditch in the watershed needs hydroseeding, and they will cover the cost-share amount on behalf of the municipality. This also extends to installing riprap for stabilization and check dams for slowing damaging water velocities on steeper slopes.

Through the combined efforts of the Cayuga County SWCD, OWLA and the town of Scipio, the ditch stabilization project has proven to be a resounding success. The partnership’s commitment to environmental stewardship and proactive measures to prevent erosion and sediment runoff is commendable. As the region continues to face increasing pressures from climate change and human activities, this collaborative project serves as a tangible example of how local organizations and government entities can join forces to protect and preserve the health and stability of our precious natural resource. To quote Kuhn once again: “Owasco Lake’s future depends on everyone pulling together and caring for it.”

Written by Jillian Aluisio, Watershed Inspector with the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection and Protection Division