ITHACA, N.Y. -- From the shore, the water of Cayuga Lake might look inviting. But trouble lies under the surface.
"In this case, it has higher levels of phosphorous, which could impact water quality in the south end of the lake,” said Ken Lynch, Regional Director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. "So we identify the water body as impaired so we can take steps to eliminate the impairment."
Too much phosphorous can increase algae growth and be harmful to fish. Now, a $2.1 million study by Cornell University and the DEC will look at where the chemical is coming from.
"This research is really important because in the life of this whole issue, we are now at a very exciting moment when all the stakeholders around the lake are going to be participating in a broader effort to study the lake and its water shed and to use science to determine what needs to be done in the future for the health of the lake," said Tommy Bruce, VP of communications for Cornell University.
The research is a requirement of the university's permit to run their Lake Source Cooling Plant. It's a system built twelve years ago to cool campus buildings without using fossil fuels.
"And the way that happens is the water circulated out of the lake and through transference, cools the water that is in a closed loop that feeds all the chillers across campus," Bruce said.
But the question the DEC is trying to answer is what is contributing to the phosphorous problem?
"Lake Source Cooling has been studied in the past decade a lot. And at no point has there been any evidence that it adds phosphorous to the lake," Bruce said.
"Lake Source Cooling draws high quantities of water from the deeper part of the lake and although the process itself does not add phosphorous to the water, it's discharging the water in a different area of the lake. In this case, the south end of the lake which is already impaired," Lynch said.
Wastewater runoff, agricultural activity and development could all be to blame. Both the DEC and the University will be looking for answers over the next few years.
The public has until November 16th to submit comments on the draft State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
Public comments on the draft SPDES permit must be submitted in writing no later than Friday, November 16th. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to:
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
Attention: Teresa Diehsner
Albany, NY 12233