Input Sought on Seneca Lake Management – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Input Sought on Seneca Lake Management

Members of the Seneca Lake Management Project Plan Advisory Committee will release an overview of the most recent research and findings in the Seneca Lake Watershed Management Plan- Characterization and Subwatershed Evaluation during a 7 p.m. public meeting on Monday, March 5, at the Academy Square Building, 12 North Park St., in Seneca Falls, N.Y.  Leading the presentation will be John Halfman, professor of geosciences at Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Chelsea Roberston, of the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board; and David Zorn, director of the Genesee Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council.    

Last summer, research scientists at the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges worked on extensive sampling and data collection projects within the Seneca Lake watershed.  Overseeing the study, Halfman monitored water quality in Seneca Lake as well as four streams on the west side of the watershed while Meghan Brown, associate professor of biology at HWS, continued research on zooplankton ecology and invasive species in the lake.  Susan Cushman, director of Introductory Biology Laboratories at HWS, collected samples from surrounding streams in order to document natural aquatic invertebrates and fish communities. Lisa Cleckner, Ph.D., and director of the Finger Lakes Institute, analyzed fish and water samples for mercury and trace metals.  The findings of this work and the implications for water quality throughout the watershed have been published in the watershed characterization report that will be presented and discussed at the March 5 meeting.    

Sarah Meyer, community outreach coordinator at the Finger Lakes Institute, looks forward to receiving input from the public at the meeting. “It is critical to have public input play a role in the Characterization’s composition and ultimately decide what is included in the longer term watershed management plan,” she says.

Edith Davey, of the Ontario County Soil and Water Conservation District, says the scope of the research project has been extensive. “The difficulty with this project lies in the extensive area of the watershed which encompasses 457 square miles and is located throughout five counties,” Davey says. Seneca Lake is more than 35 miles long with major population centers located at the north and south ends.  Documenting and collecting data from the areas in the watershed is vital to keeping Seneca Lake a pristine, natural habitat for the wildlife, for community members and tourists alike.

The findings from this latest report began in 1996 when The Seneca Lake Watershed Study was instituted to provide scientific observation and documentation of the Seneca Lake watershed.  The initial study documented a description of every subwatershed, the existing and historical use of that particular landmass, and limnology and water quality analyses to pinpoint possible sources of watershed pollution such as agriculture land use, mining, stream bank erosion, shoreline residences and forestry pollution. 

As a result, a 1999 report titled Setting a Course for Seneca Lake, the State of the Seneca Lake Watershed was released and the Seneca Lake Area Partners in 5 Counties (SLAP-5 ) was created. SLAP-5, composed of representatives from local, regional, state, and federal agencies as well as concerned citizens, has been instrumental in crafting educational outreach programs for the watershed communities and has developed a management plan to address potential sources of pollution from the watershed to Seneca Lake.  The 2012 draft Characterization and Evaluation is an update of Setting a Course for Seneca Lake: The State of the Seneca Lake Watershed published in 1999.

Halfman has played a key role in the study of the lake and surrounding watershed since 1999 and is hopeful that the public and local elected officials are interested in the decision making process for the development of the Seneca Lake Management Plan.  “Everything that happens in the watershed will eventually impact the lake, for good or bad.  We’re trying to make sure people are aware of this because many of us are dependent on the lake for drinking water, and we do not want to ruin this valuable resource right in our back yard,” Halfman says.              

For more information on the updated Seneca Lake Watershed Management Plan please visit the Finger Lakes Institute website at or read their monthly newsletters at  The draft Characterization and Subwatershed Evaluation is available for download at               


Did you know:  A watershed drains into a large low-lying body of water similar to the way rain and snow runs off into the gutters of a roof…

Seneca Lake is surrounded by 457 square miles of watersheds, spanning five counties, with water draining from creeks, streams, groundwater, soils, and lake front properties.