About Owasco Lake



Demographics and History

Owasco Lake is one of the Finger Lakes, a group of 11 long, narrow, roughly north–south lakes in an area called the Finger Lakes region in Central New York, in the United States. 30 miles from Syracuse, 66 miles from Rochester and 3 miles South of Auburn, Owasco Lake is a popular destination.

Owasco Lake’s name may have been derived from the Iroquois word dwas-co, meaning bridge on the water.[1] The name may also have been derived from the word was-co, meaning floating bridge.[2]

The Lake

▪ The Owasco Lake watershed is made up of parts of three counties, fifteen towns, and two villages. The watershed has a rich history of agriculture and was the childhood home of Millard Fillmore, the 13th president of the United States and John D. Rockefeller, industrialist and philanthropist.

▪ Over half of the watershed is covered by agricultural lands which consist mostly of hay, corn, wheat, and soy beans. With dozens of dairy farms as well, the farming industry is thriving throughout the watershed. Several education and outreach programs are working hard to ensure that watershed-friendly farming practices are used.


▪ In the nineteenth century, Owasco Lake was a popular vacation spot for the well-to-do. A casino located just north of Cascade hosted guests traveling by rail along the western length of the lake. Vestiges of the railway remain in the swampy waters, but the casino burned down in the early years of the twentieth century. The “indianist” composer Arthur Farwell camped on the east shore in 1899, before assuming his teaching duties at Cornell University, and wrote a set of piano pieces depicting his experience, entitled “Owasco Memories.” He included a representation of “The Casino Across the Lake.”


▪ Owasco Lake is 11.1 miles long, with a maximum width of 1.3 miles. The lake reaches a maximum depth of 177 feet and has a surface elevation of 712 feet above sea level, controlled by a dam on the lake’s outlet.[3] The lake has a volume of 212 billion US gallons, and drains a watershed of 208 square miles.  The lake has a refresh rate of just over 4 years.

▪ The city of Auburn is located at the northern end and takes its drinking water from the lake. The lake lies entirely within the boundaries of Cayuga County. Located at the south end of the lake is the hamlet of Cascade, which consists of a community of cottages, a marina, and a restaurant.

▪ The city of Auburn water system serves approximately 27,179 (2010 census) Auburnians through 8,800 service connections. Water from the City of Auburn is also distributed to areas within the Towns of Sennett, Fleming, Throop, Brutus, Montezuma, Springport, and Aurelius as well the Villages of Cayuga, Port Byron and Weedsport, and the Cayuga County Water Authority and the Thruway Authority. It is estimated that Auburn supplies close to 43,000 people in Cayuga County with their drinking water. The total water produced in 2017 was 1,433,091,000 (one billion, four hundred thirty-three million, ninety-one thousand) gallons. The daily average of water treated and pumped into the distribution system is 3,927,671 (three million, nine hundred twenty-seven thousand, six hundred seventy-one) gallons per day. Read the full CITY OF AUBURN ANNUAL DRINKING WATER QUALITY REPORT FOR 2017

▪ Owasco has a relatively large catchment area, compared to its overall volume. Unlike many of the other Finger Lakes, it is almost completely surrounded by agricultural land so the lake is especially vulnerable to high levels of nitrogen from farm run-off.[4] It is also downstream from the villages of Moravia and Groton. This has created a marked increase in milfoil and other lake weed growth and affected oxygen levels in the lake. Sewage treatment effluent from two communities flows into the lake, which is not monitored with such stringent controls as neighboring Skaneateles Lake, which has the purest water of all the Finger Lakes.

▪ For more information go to the DEC Owasco Lake page: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/36554.html


▪ Owasco Lake is an excellent recreation spot. Because it is smaller and shallower than many other Finger Lakes, its waters warm up much more quickly, so swimming, water-skiing, and boating are popular.

At the lake’s northern end is Emerson Park, a county park featuring a beach and boat launch.

The lake’s northeastern corner is home to the private Owasco Yacht Club, founded in 1889.


▪ Fish species present in the lake include lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, black bullhead, pickerel, and walleye. There is access via county owned hard surface boat launch in the park on the north shore for a fee.[5]

What can you do to HELP?

Protecting Owasco Lake is essential to the maintenance of our community character and the improvement of our economic future. We encourage everyone to help the Owasco Watershed Lake Association personally and/or financially. By this commitment you will help keep Owasco Lake clean and safe.