FULTON, NY – Funding for the cleanup of Lake Neatahwanta in Fulton is quickly nearing its expiration date, and along with it the opportunity to transform the lake into the vibrant recreational and economic centerpiece of the area.
Lake Neatahwanta has remained an under utilized jewel in Oswego County for many years due to its nutrient-enriched state that has resulted in an over growth of algae blooms in the summer months. After years of unrealized efforts to clean up the 700 acre lake, work finally began in 2005 thanks in large part to funding secured through New York State Senator John McHugh and in-kind donations. Now the continuation of the clean up is in jeopardy as the original funding dries up this June.
“If we stop the progress that has been made and stop this program now, the lake may never be cleaned,” said Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Oswego County Executive Director Paul Forestiere II. “It certainly won’t clean itself.”
Funding the Project
Approximately $275,000 has been spent through the Environment Protection Agency on numerous programs aimed at reducing the amount of nutrients running off from local farms into the lake. Programs educating local farmers and residents about the importance of drainage culverts, gutter systems, spreading animals out to reduce erosion, pond placement, soil sampling and more have started to make a difference in the clean up efforts.
CCE Lake Neatahwanta Project Coordinator Katy Green said this work is only phase one.
“It took 15 years for the Lake Neatahwanta Reclamation Committee to find the funding to begin this clean up effort,” she said. “From the beginning, we knew this project was going to take time and funding to make a difference in the nutrient levels in the lake. The continuation of the programs we have started is imperative if we are to continue the progress that has been made.”
With the current cycle of funding on this grant nearing completion, concerned local residents have begun to search for alternative funding sources to keep the program up and running.
The Efforts Thus Far
Green’s job as project coordinator puts her in the position of creating programs, working with local residents and educating the public on the importance of cleaning the lake.
“We have 55-60 projects that are moving forward with the support of many of the local farmers within the watershed area of Lake Neatahwanta,” Green said. “Come June, if we can not find funding, there will be no way to continue these projects.”
The projects are varied from simple fencing that can keep farm animals out of erosion prone areas to soil and manure sampling that can measure nutrient levels and not only help the lake, but can also help farmers make better use of manure and fertilizer.
23rd District Oswego County Legislator Morris Sorbello represents the watershed area and also owns a muck farm near the lake. He has taken part in the programs offered through CCE.
“With the help of Cornell Cooperative Extension we have built some retention basins with rock and pipe to help stop soil erosion into the lake,” Sorbello said. “We have started using cover cropping over soil during the winter months. We also began planting barley before our main crop of onions. By having barley grow first, it can act as a wind breaker to stop water flow into the soil. All of these projects are in place with the goal of keeping the soil from washing into the lake too quickly.”
A Community and Economic Resource
As legislator, Sorbello sees the bigger picture and the importance of the lake cleanup efforts.
“The salvation of this lake is important,” he said. “I’d like to see the waters here taken full advantage of by the community. We could expand the recreational opportunities like boating and fishing and maybe one day, even restore a swimming area to Lake Neatahwanta. Any lake is an asset to tourism. I have always been a big proponent of tourism within the county.”
Green agrees and sees the restoration of Lake Neatahwanta as having many advantages.
“The benefits of this project certainly go beyond simply cleaning and restoring a beautiful body of water,” Green said.
In fact, long lists of economic development projects have been unable to move forward because of the contaminated lake. Although a tourism center and new pier have been built, other projects like an amphitheater and performing arts center have been unable to move forward.
Oswego County Legislator for the 25th District and Lake Neatahwanta Reclamation Committee Member Louella LeClair said, “Lake Neatahwanta used to be a place where families could go to swim, have a picnic, have a boat ride and gather for reunions. Fulton even has a small campground on the lake. The lake can become a real economic driver for the city and the county.”
In an effort to create awareness for the project, Green has worked with the City of Fulton to stencil messages on more than 200 storm drains in the city indicating which drains run to the lake.
“A lot of our efforts are just simply getting the word out to make people aware of how the current state of the lake was created and how we can all take steps to start to reverse the trend,” Green said.
Sorbello said many City of Fulton residents and county residents do not remember when the lake was more recreation-friendly. Not knowing the potential the lake has makes educating local residents even more challenging.
Although cleanup efforts at the lake and the development of the lakefront has gone on for many years, CCE of Oswego County Executive Director Paul Forestiere II said now is a critical time for the lake project.
“Anyone who has fought to get this resource cleaned up in the past, should recognize an even greater vitality now,” he said.
LeClair agreed with the urgency for action regarding the cleanup efforts.
“We can not allow this lake to die a slow death,” she said. “I believe we can preserve this lake and bring back all the activities it once had. Cornell Cooperative Extension has signed on to this project and the progress has begun.”
The contamination of Lake Neatahwanta is caused by the nutrient enriched water and excessive algae blooms that impair many uses of the lake including swimming, fishing, fish propagation and survival and boating. The contaminated state of the lake has earned it a number one priority ranking for clean up in the Oswego County Water Quality Strategic Report and has caused the lake to be listed on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Priority Waterbodies list.
Cornell Cooperative Extension is a key outreach system of Cornell University with a strong public mission and an extensive local presence that is responsive to needs in New York communities. The Cornell Cooperative Extension educational system enables people to improve their lives and communities through partnerships that put experience and research knowledge to work.
If you would to learn more about the Lake Neatahwanta Project, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County at (315) 963-7286.