GENEVA — Thanks to a state grant, Seneca and Keuka lakes now have a full-time steward to monitor and protect the watershed that serves both lakes.
Ian Smith has been hired as the steward with funds included in the 2018-19 state budget. He will work out of an office at the Finger Lakes Institute on South Main Street.
Smith will work with the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization, chaired by Geneva Town Supervisor Mark Venuti. SWIO represents 40 municipalities in five counties that span the Seneca Lake watershed.
He also will work on implementing the Nine Element Watershed Plan developed by local governments and Seneca and Keuka Lake associations.
Keuka Lake drains into Seneca Lake, making it part of the Seneca Lake watershed. The two lakes contain about half of all the fresh water within the 11 Finger Lakes.
“People use the lake for recreation and drinking water,” Smith said. “So first and foremost, we want to protect what’s already functioning and highly valuable. I hope to take the framework of on-the-ground projects to get ahead of the game on issues like invasive species, nutrient loading and algal blooms.”
As watershed steward, Smith is being asked to develop expertise on Seneca Lake’s watershed challenges and provide guidance to steer the programming and actions of SWIO in meeting those challenges for the protection of the lakes.
His mandate includes:
• Updating and maintaining watershed quality data and water quality improvement projects.
• Helping implement the Nine-Element Watershed Plan.
• Organizing and executing programs to support SWIO.
• Improving public understanding of Seneca watershed issues.
• Cultivating funding options to pay for these initiatives.
His position is supported through state funds earmarked for the town of Geneva as part of a wider $110 million effort to preserve New York’s drinking water and its sources through lake and watershed conservation, including protection against pollution and invasive species.
State Sen. Pam Helming, R-54, of Canandaigua, was able to get the watershed steward funding into the stare budget.
“We tried to get funding for two years and then Senator Helming, knowing that we needed a watershed steward for Seneca Lake, was able to get it and make this a reality,” Venuti said.
Venuti said more than 30 people applied for the job. Smith has worked on water quality issues in West Virginia coal country, in Maryland Mennonite communities and at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
“The key is building bridges so people can figure out what everyone is doing. We have all the different groups fully invested and doing good work, so now amplifying its impact through communication and coordination is the next step that will get us to the watershed improvements we are looking for,” Smith said.