Article written by Wayne Howard, Steve Lewandowski, and George Thomas
The beautiful tourist community of Pultneyville, New York is a historic town along the shores of Lake Ontario, which boasts recreational opportunities such as boating, fishing, and swimming thanks to the lake. With the warmer weather approaching, people are getting eager to get outdoors and people dependant on tourist dollars are getting excited about their arrival. However, there is a rather big problem: green slime.
The Pultneyville embayment where the Salmon Creek Watershed enters Lake Ontario is plagued by excess nutrients running off lawns and farmland, plus an additional industrial pollution source, which stimulates unwanted algae growth and worsens water quality. This limits the use of cottages, offends recreational users and detrimentally affects tourism.
Rather than wait for state or federal agencies to do something about this massive problem, a group of citizens decided to take action. The Center for Environmental Initiatives (CEI) received a grant from Freshwater Future through the Healing Our Waters Coalition to identify the exact sources of phosphorus pollution and bacteria responsible for the green slime, then created a plan to fix it. The CEI organized the Salmon Creek Watershed Coordinating Committee, a group of individuals made up of governmental agencies and academia.
The Committee gained expert input to guide the project. They organized public forums to learn about the pollution problems from citizens, conducted water sampling to gather facts, and used computer modeling to better understand sources and levels of the pollution. They were able to identify the sources of bacterial pollution and where most of the phosphorus pollution was coming from—a food processing plant’s wastewater.
Using the results of this study, CEI created a Salmon Creek Watershed Action Plan that meets the Environmental Protection Agency criteria for a 9-element restoration plan for the watershed. This plan details remediation projects and an adaptive management approach used to implement the most effective measures first while monitoring the water quality impact to see if more should be done.
The CEI and project team have a few tips to share for others looking to meet EPA’s criteria—which is beneficial for future funding requests—including:
1. Effective Team Make-up—Create a project team that brings on experts you need to assess and guide the work. Their participation will bolster funding proposals and source connections to benefit the work.
2. Public Involvement—By engaging citizens in a meaningful way there is an opportunity to create stewards of the project, gain information, identify solutions and meet EPA public input requirements. The Coordinating Committee held two forums with the general public, one with Harbor stakeholders.
3. Persistence—Pay attention to information-sharing and group dynamics to build trust. Group trust was the foundation of this successful two year effort.
4. Data Presentation—Often people don’t want to read technical information, but they will look at good visuals that explain the work. The report included phosphorus loading charts for data and water quality sampling. Good visuals provide a good basis for conversation.
5. Evaluation of Remediation Alternatives—Stronger expert evaluation of proposed solutions leads to more buy in. Our report provided information on the cost and effectiveness of a variety of remediation alternatives that facilitated plan development.