While zoning codes have been instituted in nearly 80% of the municipalities within the six-county Seneca-Keuka Lake Watershed, only 23% have adopted a comprehensive plan — the basis for those codes — in the past 10 years.

And 20% have no plan at all.

In addition, just half of the municipalities have adopted erosion or sediment control laws, and only half have wastewater management laws.

Those facts are part of the data accumulated by consultants for the Seneca-Keuka Watershed Partnership, which is finalizing a watershed protection plan for presentation to the state Department of Environmental Conservation in December.

To quantify the source of pollution in the shared watershed for the two lakes that are connected by the Keuka Outlet, the SKWP has worked with EcoLogic LLC and others to study historic and current situations, including development trends and local municipal ordinances regarding the watershed.

Cornell University Associate Professor George Frantz and a group of his students compiled data on local ordinances passed by watershed municipalities. Those laws, or the lack thereof, are said by SKWP officials to be factors in the impact of development on the lakes.

Frantz and his group used satellite imagery to track development trends between 1994 and 2020. During that time, 1,788 new residential structures, which are 69% of all construction, were built, with a large concentration along waterfront areas.

Another trend in development — Frantz suggested it could be unique in the United States — are the 254 new farmsteads, each including houses and agriculture-related buildings, accounting for 10% of all new development in the watershed.

Consultants used additional data on precipitation, water quality, and land use to develop a model that quantifies sediment and nutrient runoff into downstream tributaries and lakes as a function of land use, according to SKWP officials.

Recommendations in the draft plan include best practices for agricultural resources, such as cover crops, erosion control, manure storage, riparian buffers, educational workshops, and economic incentives.

The completed final draft will be presented at 10 a.m. Feb. 3 by way of a virtual platform. The final, approved Nine Element Watershed Management Plan will be unveiled at 6 p.m. April 25 at the Yates County Office Building in Penn Yan.

For more information about the plan and the Seneca-Keuka Watershed Partnership, contact Ian Smith at (315) 781-4559 or ismith@hws.edu, or Colby Petersen at (315) 536-5188 or colby@ycsoilwater.com.

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