SKANEATELES, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — In clear view of people eating lunch at the Blue Water grill, Rich Abbott pulls out of a boathouse onto Skaneateles Lake.
He’s taking the boat out in pouring rain after most other boaters have taken shelter.
That’s because Abbott, who works for the City of Syracuse, isn’t going out on the water for an afternoon of rest and relaxation. Abbott is leading the city’s Watershed Patrol.
NewsChannel 9 was given rare access to accompany Abbot on this trip.
Abbott will be on alert for algal blooms, which, until the outbreaks the past two summers, had never been discovered on Skaneateles Lake.
If he spots a bloom, the City has a renewed response plan. But because people living in Syracuse rely on Skaneateles Lake for drinking water, Abbott’s focus goes far beyond algae or invasive species that likely won’t impact the water’s quality.
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh tells NewsChannel 9, “It’s in all of our best interest to make sure invasive species stay out of the lake, so whether it’s through boat washing stations or other new practices, those are things we want to do and partner in. We just need to focus on where our resources are best spent.”
Unfiltered Water, Unfiltered Mission
Mayor Walsh says the city spends nearly $1 million per year on protecting Skaneateles Lake.
Syracuse is one of two cities in the state (the other is New York City) that drinks water from an unfiltered source, without a water treatment plant.
That designation puts a responsibility on Syracuse to keep the water clean.
The state also gives the city jurisdiction over the Skaneateles Lake Watershed, the land around the water.
For 25 years, the City of Syracuse has had dedicated staff assigned to Skaneateles Lake. Based out of the city’s gatehouse, next to the Sherwood Inn, the staff tests the water and builds relationships with farmers whose land border the shoreline.
Abbott and his crews test for 120 different drinking water contaminants: heavy metals, organic compounds, bacteria, among other things.
The contamination comes from chemicals that are pushed into the lake after rain washes it away.
Abbott has to review every farm and construction site’s plan to limit how much sewage and soil washes away.
Some of the work is enforced, but some is voluntary. Many nearby farmers work with the city on strategies to protect the water and keep their soil intact.
The more that’s kept on land, the cleaner the water.
“The lake can change dramatically, quickly after a big storm event,” Abbott tells NewsChannel 9.
15 miles from Skaneateles to Syracuse
Deep beneath boaters having fun on the surface, two intake pipes draw in the raw water.
At the pipes, chlorine is added to kill anything harmful. Chlorine is added again at the shoreline, underneath the city’s gatehouse.
From there, the water travels in pipelines for 15 miles, through Camillus/Fairmount to the city’s two reservoirs: the open-air Woodland Reservoir and the tanks near Westcott.
At both of those treatment centers, more disinfecting happens and the water is run through tanks with ultra-violet lights that kill bacteria.
The water is tested one final time before its destination is a faucet.