Dear OWLA members,

Over the past few months, your Board of Directors, along with many in the community, have been discussing the New York State (NYS) Department of Health’s position on the proposed Owasco Lake Watershed Rules and Regulations — that it does not have the authority to regulate nutrient management practices. The City of Auburn and the Town of Owasco sought out Earthjustice’s representation only after the state ignored wishes of the local community. Earthjustice moved forward with pulling together an Article 78 petition only after the City and Town concluded that they would like to take that step as a part of their broader advocacy.

This landmark Article 78 procedure seeks to clarify that the NYS Department of Health does have the right to regulate nutrient management practices. Your OWLA Board of Directors, after reviewing our Vision, Mission and Values statements, agreed to join this petition along with the City of Auburn and the Town of Owasco. This legal determination will have impacts across all of New York state. Many watersheds, including our own, presently have some agricultural nutrient pollution regulation on the books. If NYS Department of Health’s legal determination is allowed to stand, protections for many watersheds, including our own, will likely be rolled back. We are also joining this filing to help ensure that the NYS Department of Health fulfills its duties for all watersheds in the state.

An Article 78 proceeding seeks to challenge the actions of administrative agencies and other government bodies. The person who files a special proceeding with the court is a petitioner. The agency, board, body, corporation, officer or other person answering the petition is called the respondent. Here is a bit of the history that brought us to this crossroad.

The process to create updated Rules and Regulations for the Owasco Lake Watershed started in the Spring of 2017. 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. Numerous community meetings followed with much public input and compromise. In the Fall of 2020, after following the procedure outlined by the NYS Department of Health, this community submitted updated Rules and Regulations for the Owasco Lake Watershed. Despite the extensive efforts of this community, it has been over three years since our submission. We have received a draft response from NYS that weakens our protection.

The Department of Health has said that it has been stripped of authority to create nutrient management regulations for Owasco Lake by the Legislature. Specifically, the Department says that when lawmakers established the Agricultural Environmental Management program, they intended to make nutrient management on farms the sole responsibility of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. As the petition points out, the laws cited by the Department of Health say no such thing.

The mission statement for the NYS Dept of Health is: We protect, improve, and promote the health, productivity, and wellbeing of all New Yorkers. This is the Agency that should be the only one deciding new Rules and Regulations for NYS Watersheds. All New Yorkers have a right to clean drinkable water.

We encourage all NYS watershed advocates to support our efforts.

Ann Robson
OWLA President