Lake Neatahwanta Cleanup Plans Find Enthusiastic Audience

A long table full of local officials presented plans for renewing Lake Neatahwanta to a crowd mainly composed of people old enough to remember when the lake was okay for swimming.
A long table full of local officials presented plans for renewing Lake Neatahwanta to a crowd mainly composed of people old enough to remember when the lake was okay for swimming.

The plans of local officials to make Lake Neatahwanta swimmable again found an encouraging response from an audience old enough to remember when they could swim in the lake.

Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward and Granby Town Supervisor Ed Williamson, flanked by officials and members of the lake’s current advocacy group, outlined aggressive goals that could see the cleanup begin this summer.

Lake Neatahwanta, once a summertime beach playground, is now unsafe to swim in.  The lake’s bottom is rising as more and more sediment rushes in from the three streams that feed it and falls to the floor.  The shallower lake is warmer.  The warmth, combined with the fecal wastes of scores of geese, has fostered the spread of blue-green algae, which can make people sick or even kill them.

The problem has also hurt the lake’s longtime reputation as a fine spot for fishermen.

An audience made up mostly of local officials and senior citizens offered advice to the group, as they reminisced about their days at the beach.

“We had a nice beach. People swam,” said Fanny Knapp, whose Granby farm forms 900 feet of the south shore of the lake.  Others remembered seeing their picture in the newspaper of them standing in the lake’s water, of fishing for bullhead, or of being baptized in the lake.

Knapp, who has studied the lake’s issues for decades, said that the problem began in the 1960s when the city drilled a water well into the underground springs that fed and cleaned the lake.  The federal government forced the city to abandon the well in the 1980s because it had higher-than-acceptable levels of naturally-occurring barium in the water.

Removing the sediment from the lake bottom will reopen the springs, she said.

Woodward said a non-profit group should be formed to raise money from the public for the cleanup effort.

He said a dredging machine could be bought for about $100,000.  It would collect and remove sediment from the lake bottom and pipe it into huge tubes that would allow the lake water to seep back out.  The sediment would then be trucked away.

Officials think the lake is only about 8 feet deep at its deepest point now.  It used to be 16 feet deep.

A representative for State Senator Patty Ritchie said the state Legislature put aside $275,000 for the lake cleanup and for the removal of water chestnuts from county waterways.  Soil and Water Conservation District Manager John DeHollander said that last year’s water chestnut effort cost about $50,000.  However, it’s not clear how the money was split up in the Legislature’s funding bill.

Williamson said the town would focus on cleaning the three streams that flow into the lake, to keep sediment out of the lake.

Woodward and Williamson said the first step in their plan was to hold the public meeting and try to get community support for the idea.  Next, they’ll determine whether they can use an existing non-profit, such as the current lake reclamation committee, or will have to set up a new one to raise funds for the cleanup.

Woodward said the largest obstacle to a summer start will be meeting the state’s deadlines and satisfying their paperwork demands.  But if that happens, he said, there will be rapid progress.

“It will probably take ten years to get that lake back, but after the first year, you’ll see a tremendous difference,” he said.


  1. Fellow Citizens,

    There are petitions being circulated by area residents, for the Lake Committee, which we hope will “bring awareness to, and help clean up, Lake Neatahwanta,” myself included. I encourage you all to take a few minutes and sign a petition, which will then be forwarded to our state and federal representatives for consideration of this most potential project.

    This is your chance to do something to better the community, and to give future generations the memories and joys we experienced during our youth. It’s time to save our lake… LET’S ROCK!


    Ralph E. Stacy, Jr.
    Proud City of Fulton Resident

  2. So how long does it take for a city to act? I was a plank owner for the first lake reclamation committee back in the early 90s. Its rather pathetic the same rhetoric and ideas the founding members discussed have sat idle or been tossed around for over 20 years! I was a freshmen in college back then. We talked about dredging, engaging agricultural along the lake, and industry/residents along the streams, and putting together a non-profit organization. The Mayor and his minions back then said no money was available in the city budget and no one had the testicular fortitude or clout to ask a state legislator to lobby for money. The big white hope was perhaps asking one of the colleges/universities to offer up some folks to do a study. Fast forward 20+ years. City leaders and the present committee are no closer now than back then. They’ve had 20+ years to act and have devoted funds, time, and effort to other silly projects. Its going to cost 10-15M dollars to do what really needs to be done and in this budgetary environment, there’s a snowball’s chance in Hades that will happen. I moved away from Fulton soon thereafter (early 90s) but have always pondered “what if” every time I visited home. City leaders are hinting it could take another 20-30 years to get the lake cleaned up. Its pretty bad Onondaga Lake has better pollution metrics than our lake! Very sad indeed.

  3. Ralph,
    Please see my comment (once it gets moderated). Petitions have been passed around for years and nothing has been done. City leaders are not serious about solving the problem. They expect the state and federal govts to pick up the tab. There are a host of brain trust resources at the city’s disposal and many fine lobbyists in the state who could champion the effort if prodded.

  4. You guys are being played for fools. The city could have had that lake dregged for free if they would have let the dregging comapny keep the sediment. The city wanted a cut of the profits for selling it and the dregging company said no thanks and walked. Now the city wants private donations to fund the dregging. Tell the city to pay for it themselves. They are the one who blew the deal.

  5. Having lived on the Chesapeake Bay for the past 20 years, I can tell you the issue of sediment and loading influx is no easy fix. In the article, Williamson suggests the city will focus on the streams to solve the sedimentation problem. News flash – sedimentation is not the problem. I get the feeling he believes the city can buy some magic filter and take away the problem. The lake is in the throes of hypertrophication. Frankly, point and non-point pollutant control (or lack thereof) is the issue here. Its an easier regulatory process to enact sedimentation and erosion controls for property owners along/adjacent to the lake than to identify and enforce point/non-point sources. The most beneficial immediate step is dredging. Increasing the overall volume of the lake will decrease the concentration of pollutants therein, albeit to a very small degree. Concurrently, get tough with source regulations and hold polluters accountable throughout the watershed. Having witnessed beach replenishment and dredging efforts along the Bay coastline here in Virginia Beach, I can tell you the process is loud, messy, and requires plenty of room for the spoils. How do you think Norfolk remains one of a handful of worldwide ports with 50ft deep channels and pier accessibility? I’m sure the NY DEC and EPA will be right there (if and when Fulton gets a clue and $) to ensure spoils do not exceed pollutant levels and appropriate disposal methods are utilized.

  6. It’s a shame that this once beautiful lake become a running joke over the last 25 years. It really is a perfect symbol of what’s happened to the city over that same span.

    I have always thought the reclamation of the lake and the reclamation of the city goes hand in hand. People used to actually come from all over the area to come sun and swim at Stevenson Beach. And just as many came from all over the area to fish the lake.

    It’s hard to believe that the city has failed to act for this many years. Shameful, really.

  7. What you need is an alum treatment to bind up the phosphorous (P) in the sediment. I’ve been doing them for over 20 years.

    Getting a handle on the incoming P from the streams is very important, but the damage is done and the amount of P in the sediment will sustain algal blooms for decades. So the options are to remove it by dredging or to chemically lock it up with alum.

    If you know you have an ongoing external loading problem, you would dose it with less alum, but plan on doing it more often. Maybe every 3-7 years depending on the external load, with the first one being heavier, and subsequent treatments lighter. If you get the external load taken care of (very difficult) you can look at more like a 15-20 year dose.

    The state DEQ is going to be a hurdle in this as they had a bad experience with a water treatment plant that used alum as a “pre-filter” in a reservoir for decades, resulting in 10 feet of alum sludge in the sediment. That should have no bearing on carefully planned and executed alum treatments for P control, but apparently it does in the eyes of the NY DEQ. They allowed us to treat Honeoye, but with a VERY low dose and subsequent limited life of treatment.

    Paul Eberhardt
    [email protected]

  8. I was informed that the watershed to the lake was permeated
    with P runoff that was a result of local farmers (muck) using this sort of chemical to treat their crop. It seems a handle must be placed on this activity or it will usurp a dredging process or water treatment with alum.

    I like my lettuce & onions but we must have a better way.

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