For the past decade, 601 S. Main has been home to the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI), an organization dedicated to the promotion of environmental research and education about the Finger Lakes and surrounding region.
“FLI has embodied a clearinghouse attitude,” says Professor Environmental Studies John Halfman, who co-wrote most of the grants that created FLI and was the first FLI Endowed Chair in Environmental Studies. “Nutrient loading, invasive species, and industrial wastes are some examples of the more pressing environmental issues that impact these water bodies. These lakes serve as drinking water supplies for the neighboring communities. We must do everything we can to keep them clean. Most importantly, we openly disseminate our accumulating knowledge to regional environmental partners, local government offices and the general public so that everyone benefits from our efforts.”
By monitoring the eight easternmost Finger Lakes, Halfman is able to determine why some lakes have better water quality than others and prescribe methods for improving quality. Other initiatives that that FLI has been engaged in include:
- The launch of the Sustainable Community Development Program, which develops innovative and cost-effective solutions for pressing environmental issues and serves as the “foundation for municipalities and organizations to pursue funding to address environmental quality and economic development issues,” says FLI Director Lisa Cleckner, Ph.D., MBA. This program, now also offered as a minor at HWS, includes experiential learning opportunities for faculty and students who wish to research and problem-solve community development issues;
- the completion of a Watershed Management Plan for Seneca Lake, which enables regional municipalities to seek state and federal funding to address nutrient loading that has increased the lake’s turbidity and other water quality challenges;
- leveraging HWS scientific expertise on Finger Lakes aquatic resources, including research by Halfman, Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown, Associate Professor of Geoscience Tara Curtin, Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories Susan Flanders Cushman ’98, Assistant Professor of Geoscience David Finkelstein, FLI Director Cleckner, and HWS students;
- hosting the regional home for invasive species management including public education and prevention efforts;
- providing opportunities for inquiry-based learning in K-12 schools so students can explore first-hand the important bodies of water in their region. After all, “lakes are a natural laboratory for looking at environmental change over different spatial and time scales,” Cleckner says.
“The Finger Lakes Institute has, in a relatively brief time become an invaluable asset to our region,” says New York State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio L.H.D. ’07 (R-NY), a longtime HWS-supporter who was integral in FLI’s development. “Years ago, when we faced serious concerns with the quality and health of Owasco Lake, the Finger Lakes Institute was there to provide its full support with state-of-the-art technologies and research methods that showed us the way to make significant improvements in the condition of the lake. Armed with the knowledge that the Finger Lakes Institute provided, we were able to work with our local governments to implement a sound environmental plan. While more remains to be done, we have seen tremendous progress in the health of Owasco Lake and we owe our debt and gratitude to the dedicated team of researchers at the Finger Lakes Institute.”
Such a dynamic undertaking as FLI required significant financial support. Fortunately, HWS received that from Nozzolio and now retired U.S. Congressman James Walsh to get FLI up and running. “Their support of the Finger Lakes Institute was instrumental in its success,” says President Mark D. Gearan, “and we remain grateful for their support of the Institute’s cause over the past decade.”
Nozzolio had, in fact, embraced the creation of an environmental clearinghouse while he was a graduate student in agricultural and resource economics at Cornell University. When he partnered with Gearan in 2003 to create FLI, their vision was simple: to establish an institute that would provide our region’s policy makers, educators, residents and students with the tools that would allow them to protect and enhance the Finger Lakes.
Before FLI came to fruition, though, 601 S. Main wasn’t using renewable energy at all. It was actually in such terrible shape that the building was condemned. In its disrepair, however, HWS saw enormous potential to create an eco-friendly structure. Laurelled in 2009 with an EPA ENERGY STAR Small Business Award for its energy efficiency, FLI prides itself on using energy management improvements that reduce waste and pollution through the use of solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, erosion-preventing landscaping, among many other initiatives.
FLI continues to be mindful of its carbon footprint, looking to sustainable infrastructure and innovative programs to support clean, safe water.
“We all need to look at the impacts of economic development on our water resources and consider how much energy is used to make clean water for drinking and to treat polluted water. Ultimately, we need to safeguard our water as it is a unique and valuable asset,” Cleckner says.