Canandaigua Lake Watershed Community Involvement and Plan

Canandaigua Lake Watershed Community Involvement and Plan

The Canandaigua Lake Watershed is located 25 miles southeast of the City of Rochester in the Finger Lakes District of New York State. Canandaigua Lake is one of the western, medium-sized Finger Lakes. The 174-square-mile watershed area includes all or parts of thirteen towns, two villages, and one city in three counties. In addition, five municipalities, including two outside the watershed, utilize the lake as a source of public drinking water for 48,000 people.

When water quality problems and issues arose in 1988, work began to resolve problems and has since been ongoing. Milestones include the preparation and publication of The State of the Canandaigua Lake Watershed-1994, formation of the Local Government Watershed Policy Committee (LGWPC) in 1995, signing of the Watershed Compact in 1995, LGWPC review of remedial actions from 1995-1998, creation of an enhanced water quality monitoring program for the watershed (1995-present), creation of a Watershed Council from the LGWPC in 1999, local adoption of a Watershed Management Plan in 1999, hiring of a Watershed Manager in 1999, and the beginning of implementation in 2000.

The Canandaigua Lake Watershed Task Force was formed to act as an umbrella organization to identify, coordinate, and provide leadership for the efforts of public and private groups that have a stake in the Canandaigua Lake Watershed. We always emphasized the temporary nature of the organization; it was envisioned as a work group to act as a catalyst and a focus for efforts. As its efforts have resulted in a Watershed Management Plan for Canandaigua Lake, considerations of the future role of the Task force have taken place. At present, choices being considered are to continue in its present function for some time, to merge with another lake group, or to change into a foundation. The Task Force began with an agency/organization focus but later adopted by-laws, which favored leadership by citizen volunteers. In 1995, the Task Force sought and received non-profit status from the State and the IRS. In actuality, we have used and maintained several forms of organization. Stakeholders have been encouraged to take leadership in the effort, to attend special interest committee meetings, and to provide expert testimony relating to remedial actions.

The series of public information/education meetings undertaken in 1988-89 brought the idea of watershed issues to the fore. Lake issues had primarily been thought of in terms of Canandaigua Lake and shoreline-recognition of the watershed area as a contributor to water quality required a shift in public thinking. The meetings were generally question and answer sessions aimed at identifying issues and concerns about the lake and focusing the attention of residents on lake and watershed issues.

How would you outline the steps in organizing your project to advise another group on a similar project?

1.    Listen to concerns

2.    Organize meetings and ask questions of the groups and individuals who attend

3.   Define problems and issues

4.   Involve those with a stake in the issues

5.   Emphasize strengths and resources

6.   Provide a fresh perspective (in this case, watershed)

7.   Emphasize a coordinated, uniform and comprehensive approach

8.   Seek the best available scientific studies and advice

9.   Share information

10. Communicate freely and with a wide varity of audiences.

How has the project affected your community?

The project convinced municipalities, groups, and individuals within the watershed that they form a kind of community and can act as a community to further their mutual interests.

What particular stumbling blocks, challenges, or defeats did you encounter?

There was political opposition. In the beginning, there was an ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ mentality. There have also been ‘turf’ difficulties among the participating agencies and organizations and similar problems between participating municipalities. Some squawking about property rights was also heard. In general, though, the beauty, importance and value of the lake have re-asserted themselves. The effort also gained sufficient visibility to become a genuine campaign issue.

How many people were involved (initially vs. finally)?

The initial work-group was about 15 people. The first public meetings drew about 60. The cast of characters changed over the years, though the numbers stayed about the same.

How many people-hours were spent on various  aspects of the project?

There is no way to estimate the massive number of people-hours involved. At one phase of the project, a State grant required us to account for a match in hours, and we found the match exceeded the hours paid for by the grant by about 2:1. Over the eleven years of the project, tens of thousands of people-hours were utilized.

How was public involvement motivated and facilitated?

The project required grass-roots involvement. Early on , we emphasized the project as a way for people to take care of their own home and as a way to protect their investment in lakeshore property. They were asked to practice ‘good housekeeping’ in relation to the streams and lake. Our earliest activities were to set a series of listening-meetings around the watershed. The committee structure of the Task Force was designed with stakeholders in mind and functioned for the focused discussion of issues and self-education. After about five years of this process, however, there was a ‘hand-off’ of issues and processes to local government leaders.

How was public education a component of your program?

Public education was not a component of the program; it was the fundamental basis of our program. Public education is a key to successful implementation of pollution-source control strategies. By educating, empowering, and providing the residents of the Canandaigua Lake Watershed with proper information, significant positive effects on the control of nonpoint source pollution can be achieved.

Educational programs emphasizing the need for care of the Canandaigua Lake Watershed predate establishment of the Watershed Management Plan by nearly a decade. At its inception in 1989, the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Task Force recognized the need for community-wide education. Education programs have played an integral part in development and acceptance of the Watershed Management Plan. The future success of the Plan will be partly based on incorporating the knowledge base gained and further educational efforts into the remedial actions being implemented.

The educational programs included public information/education meetings, watershed information surveys, a large display booth exhibited at public events, educational publications, newsletters, educational signs including ‘Lake Friendly Farmer’ and ‘Sensible Salting Requires Sensible Driving’, seminars on pesticides, boating, and monitoring, and septic system information. Educational materials and programs for children have included a watershed issues coloring book, a play, a puppet show, aquatic macroinvertebrate stream sampling, and a school curriculum on watershed themes (which has been incorporated into local classes).

What was the primary means of communication?

Almost all forms of communication were used. We utilized videotapes, created a watershed slide-show, issued press releases and followed up with radio, television, and the print media. We placed articles in other organizations’ newsletters and established a quarterly newsletter of our own. The watershed project spanned ten years in which internet communication changed from rare to common; if we were to re-mount the project again, internet communication would play a major communication role.

What resources were available/acquired/tapped into?

Massive resources, human and capital, were devoted to this project. For example, the Local Government Watershed Policy Committee meeting monthly for 5 years involved more than 700 hours of municipal officials’ time, 600 hours of staff time, and 200 hours of volunteer time. A Policy Support Committee created to assist the LGWPC logged more than 1200 hours of staff time. The Watershed Task Force has had more than 150 meetings since beginning involving more than 3500 person-hours. At least 6000 hours of staff time has been dedicated to the watershed project by various planning departments, soil and water conservation districts, and cooperative extensions.

Since its beginning in 1989, the watershed project has acquired and attracted over $1,000,000 in resources from sources such as the individual municipalities, the State of New York, the federal government, the Kaplan Fund, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, private individuals, the Great Lakes Commission, and the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Fund.

What level of media exposure were you able to attain and how did it affect your efforts?

We have been lucky to have had good coverage at every stage by local and regional newspapers and radio. The group was given an early push by a ‘Future of the Finger Lakes’ week-long series published by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. The Canandaigua Daily Messenger also published special series, feature articles, meeting announcements, a weekly summer column on boating safety, a water quality coloring book, and updates on activities and studies. Good communications with and through the media have been tremendously important in keeping the project on track, in the community eye, and well-explained to the broader non-technical audiences.

Canandaigua Lake Watershed Task Force
6907 Walton Point Rd.
Naples, NY 14512

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.