Special to The Citizen

The Owasco Lake Watershed Rules & Regulations had not been revised since 1984 when a project to do so began in the spring of 2017.

The goal of the project was to “improve, protect and preserve” Owasco Lake. Concern for a lake watershed that provides drinking water for most of Cayuga County was a major factor in the push for new regulations. Over the next two years, the committee of volunteers
met numerous times and developed a core model of updated rules and regulations for our watershed. They met with “stakeholder” groups (agriculture and farmers, lake associations, landowners, municipalities and public users of the lake), and received their input. They held public meetings and, at their conclusion, received over 28 pages of comments. They answered all questions and made appropriate changes when found worthy. We owe all the volunteers and stewards of the lake a large debt of gratitude for all their work. Finally, in the fall of 2020, the Owasco Lake Watershed Rules & Regulations were presented to the city of Auburn and town of Owasco for submission to New York state. It took New York state three years to respond, and despite the continued deterioration of water quality in Owasco Lake, the state of New York significantly weakened the proposed rules and regulations. Some argue the state’s proposal even weakens the 1984 rules and regulations.

Below is a letter from OWLA submitted with the new rules and regulations in November 2020:
Subject: The Owasco Watershed Lake Association (OWLA) Endorses the Revised Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations

OWLA is an influential citizen volunteer organization. The organization has an extensive history dedicated to improving, preserving, and protecting Owasco Lake. OWLA is committed to facilitating the strategies and activities that restore and maintain our lake and watershed. The benefits of a clean Owasco Lake to the region’s residents, businesses, economic competitiveness, recreation, and reputation are immense. Regional vitality, property values, taxes generated, and political support will be in substantial jeopardy without needed lake-protecting changes. Owasco Lake is the drinking water source for tens of thousands of residents. Similarly, nearby Skaneateles Lake also provides drinking water for tens of thousands. The Skaneateles Lake Rules and Regulations have been in place for many years. Agriculture and other businesses in that watershed have successfully adapted and have continued to thrive. Owasco Lake, located just a few miles to the west, should not be differently governed. The revised Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations are the result of numerous collaborations and inputs from representatives of all stakeholders within the Lake’s watershed – farmers, property owners, public drinking water purveyors, county agencies, duly elected government officials, and a wide range of citizens. All of
these parties have worked together for over three years to finalize the document. The revised Rules and Regulations contain provisions for phased compliance and for waivers, and we recognize that public funds, not just private funds, will be required for implementation. OWLA firmly supports the revised Rules and Regulations. We are blessed to be located in a region that has more than 20% of the world’s fresh water. Clean water is our most precious commodity. Owasco Lake can wait no longer. Please support getting more rigorous protective rules in place. With the unanimous support of the OWLA Board of Directors, I duly provide this letter of endorsement.

Sincerely, Dana L. Hall, Ph.D.,
President of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association

We have not changed our opinion. We strongly urge the passage of the Owasco Watershed Rules & Regulations as submitted in October 2020, and see no reason for further delay. If the state wants to weaken the submitted documents, they need to prove our lake is getting better. We have not seen any such proof.

Skaneateles Lake has the reputation for the best quality of water in the Finger Lakes. It also has a reputation for strong rules backed up by strict enforcement. Within this environment, business, agriculture and farming, lake associations, and recreational users have managed to work together and grow. A thriving lake is the center of the town of Skaneateles’s success.

We feel that all the watersheds in the Finger Lakes should have the same strong rules and strict enforcement. Why shouldn’t we have the same?

For more information, or to join OWLA, please visit our website at

Bill Foster is a member of the board of directors of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association.