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State DEC releases 2018-2020 report on restoration of New York’s Great Lakes

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has released its 2018-2020 progress report on the restoration and protection of New York’s Great Lakes resources. The report highlights a number of projects in and around Rochester and the Finger Lakes designed to restore its waterways.

“The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable source of clean drinking water and support a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation that New Yorkers and visitors can enjoy all year round,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in a statement. “The New York Great Lakes Action Agenda continues to serve as an integrated action plan to promote these sustainable uses while also protecting water quality, fish and wildlife habitat and the communities dependent on these resources.

“The 2018-2020 report showcases how state, regional and local partners have worked together to protect our shared natural resources, contributing to an improved quality of life for the region and state,” Seggos added.

This map shows the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) project areas and Lake Ontario boundaries. (Source: DEC)
This map shows the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) project areas and Lake Ontario boundaries. (Source: DEC)

Significant achievements in the last two years statewide include:
• Restoring habitats and recreational uses for Environmental Justice communities within the Rochester Embayment and Buffalo River Areas of Concern;
• Adapting to storms and flooding by building back smarter and enhancing the resilience of Great Lakes coastal communities through the state’s $300 million Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, Resilient NY and other initiatives;
• Improving and protecting critical water resources in waterways that drain to Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to ensure waters are swimmable, drinkable and fishable; and
• Securing $19 million in federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding for 117 projects, complementing the state’s initiatives and commitment to restoring the shorelines of New York’s Great Lakes.

“New Yorkers along our Great Lakes coast know how essential the lakes are to the region’s sense of place and the wellbeing of our communities. The Department of State is proud to partner with the Department of Environmental Conservation and our state and local colleagues to help communities identify opportunities for growth and increased collaboration that will lend to the region’s tremendous potential,” said New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “Over the past year we have worked hard to advance actions that will utilize our abundant access to the water, increase our resiliency to coastal changes and preserve the unique and special character of the region.”

The state’s Great Lakes Programs goals are guided by New York’s Great Lakes Action Agenda (GLAA) and integrate local, state and federal plans, goals and initiatives. GLAA encourages collaborative action and applies an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach. Goals include restoring environmental quality; conserving and restoring natural resources; promoting resilient communities and sustainable development; building public stewardship and leadership; and promoting science-informed decision-making through ecosystem-based management.

In the area of restoring environmental quality, the Genesee River Coalition of Conservation Districts is successfully implementing the Genesee River 9E Watershed Management Plan, according to the report. Partners secured federal and state grants to promote soil health practices and developed a system to track agricultural best management practices, and estimate nonpoint source loading reductions across the watershed.

Within the Finger Lakes Region:
• In 2018, DEC researchers completed a Finger Lakes Water Quality Report;
• Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans for Conesus Lake and Honeoye Lake were finalized in 2019, and the TMD for Cayuga Lake is being developed;
• Complex modeling and 9E watershed management plans are being developed for Skaneateles Lake, Canandaigua Lake, Owasco Lake and Seneca-Keuka Lake, with support from partners including the DOS;
• Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Action Plans are being implemented with various lake committees and academic partners throughout the region to improve water quality by reducing phosphorus and nitrogen loading; and
• Hundreds of volunteers have been trained in citizen-science techniques to help monitor and report HABs. All 11 Finger Lakes now have active monitoring programs.

In the area of promoting resilient communities and sustainable development, the report notes that in respone to extreme flooding and erosion that occurred in 2017 and 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s REDI program is providing $300 million in funding to support 132 shoreline resiliency and economic development projects identified by the impacted communities across eight counties along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

In 2018, the governor’s office announced $3 million in funding for Resilient NY Flood Mitigation studies to use advanced modeling techniques and field assessments within 48 flood-prone watersheds and identify priority projects that would reduce flooding impacts and ice jam risks, as well as improve habitat. Within the Rochester area that includes Irondequoit Creek in Monroe County and Honeoye Creek in Ontario County.

DEC’s Great Lakes Basin Programs Coordinator Don Zelazny said some 103 of the 124 total actions included in the 2015-2020 NYs Great Lakes Action Agenda have been progressed. The new five to 10-year agenda will aim to be inclusive, accessible and more reflective of the needs of diverse Great Lakes communities, especially those of environmental justice areas, he said.

The full report is available here.

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