AUBURN, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Local leaders in Cayuga County are growing more worried every day about the quality of Owasco Lake as the level of toxins continues to rise. The lake is the source of drinking water for 45,000 Cayuga County neighbors.

They’re now sounding the alarm, calling on the Governor to act now. 

The Cayuga County Board of Health sent a letter to Governor Hochul at the end of last year calling on the Department of Health to approve the revised “Owasco Watershed Rules and Regulations,” which was submitted to the state more than two years ago in December 2020.

Eileen O’Connor, Director of Environmental Health for Cayuga County said the state didn’t respond to the revised plan until June 2022, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said meetings commenced in June but then came to a halt in November before the plan was officially approved. O’Connor said the NYS DOH informed her the meetings would resume when a new Health Commissioner was named. 

Samples of the raw water from Owasco Lake have shown an increase in microcystins, a toxin that’s created from harmful algae blooms. O’Connor said those levels have increased dramatically over the past five years.

Another issue the county is now facing? The disinfectant byproducts used to remove these toxins from the raw water are starting to show up in excess amounts in the drinking water. (See page three of the PDF above.) The county says the filtration system is still working to remove the toxins from the drinking water and it’s still safe to consume. However, they are worried if more action isn’t taken that won’t remain true for long.

The Auburn City Council is also taking action. Last month they passed two resolutions urging the Governor to approve the revised Owasco Watershed Rules and Regulations plan.

The council also went a step further to ask the state to implement a Total Maximum Daily Load plan, a federal clean-up plan they asked for in 2016 but never received. 

NewsChannel 9 reached out to the NYS DOH for comment and they responded by saying: 

“New York State Department of Health has shown its commitment to working with state and local partners and to bringing together the subject matter experts to address Owasco Lake’s climate-driven challenges, and we will continue to do so.” 

NYS Department of Health

The NYS DOH also points to a recently approved Owasco Lake Water Quality Plan that the NYS DEC and Department of State passed in September 2022, outlining a nine-step action plan to reduce phosphorus from the lake.

You can read more about the plan here