Water’s Power in Forwarding Sustainability Efforts

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Tompkins Weekly 7-22-20

By Tony Del Plato

The Finger Lakes region has been inhabited by peoples for at least 12 millennia, most recently by the five (then six) nations of the Haudenosaunee, followed by immigrants, mostly from Europe.

The culture and technologies of feeding them determined the sustainability of their communities. An understanding of the laws of nature defined their boundaries. The Mohawk Water Song is an expression of love for ohne:ka (water), sung by the Akwesasne Women Singers today.

This essay contains snapshots of sustainability from my point of view, in the areas I frequent. The 11 lakes in the region are beautifully laid out, as if a bear claw raked the landscape from the Southern Tier up towards Lake Ontario. Each lake has a variety of challenges to its well-being. It is a costly and long process to restore the health of lakes that have been damaged.

I was elected to be a village trustee and water commissioner, a tall order for someone who is not a hydrologist. To fulfill this responsibility, my ongoing project is to learn as much as I can about this vital resource with the guidance of those who have been doing this work. I am curious about the complexity of water, the beauty it evokes and how profoundly we are connected to it.

John Halfman, a professor of geolimnology and hydrogeochemistry at Hobart & William Smith College, has studied the eight easternmost Finger Lakes in a 10-year study, 2005 to 2016. He analyzed the various factors that determine the water quality of each lake, which provides 1.5 million residents with drinking water.

The two largest lakes in the region, Cayuga and Seneca, are considered “threatened,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. There has been an increase in the salinity and other problems like hazardous algal blooms, mussels and other invasive species.

These government agencies are monitoring them and being kept honest by organizations like the Seneca Lake Guardian; Community Science Institute; the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network; the Finger Lakes Institute, the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association; CLEAN (Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now); Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance; and municipal organizations.

Signals of peril and well-being of the region’s water are reported by Water Front and The Banner. These online resources report on water, environmental and cultural issues in our area. Sustainable Tompkins has a listserv for people in the Ithaca area with tips, alerts and programs from Cornell and the surrounding communities.

Discover Cayuga Lake Boat Tours takes you for a leisurely cruise with commentary about the history and ecology of the lake. STEPS (Seneca Towns Engaging People for Solutions) is a community-based organization that facilitates health programming, beautification and economic development in rural South Seneca.

Beacons of sustainability in Seneca County include a new 375K water tank for the village of Interlaken, whose source of water are two wells near Cayuga Lake. A new sewage system is in the works. A Green Team in the South Seneca School District are developing plans to return to reusable tableware and composting.

Interlaken trustees are discussing a detention pond with a neighboring farmer to mitigate flooding concerns. Rainwater collection barrels around my home and garage collect water for the gardens.

How we live our daily lives affects the water quality around us. Electric-generating stations use lake water to cool turbines, with the effluent increasing the temperature of lakes. Runoff from farm fields contribute nutrients for algal growth.

In 2000, lake source cooling (LSC) became a unique project for the Cornell campus to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. LSC ostensibly promotes a sustainable future, though it is responsible for an increase in phosphorus in Cayuga Lake.

Renewable energy is blossoming throughout the region. Tompkins County ranks eighth in the state for solar development. Solar power electrifies the Interlaken village hall and DPW barn.

The town of Covert also uses solar power for the town hall. The city of Geneva has a Solar Village in which its cottages are powered by solar tech and heat pumps that keep residents warm in winter and cool during the summer. The cottages are within walking and biking distance to food stores.

Eight generations of a Republican government has led to political gridlock in the United States. It has been corrupted by money, consumerism and green-washing the quality of our environment. Under the current administration, “The Dirty Water Rule” leaves thousands of streams and more than half of wetlands without the protection of the Clean Water Act.
Waterhole governance is about protecting water and using it wisely. After the 2021 legislative session, New York voters will vote on a ballot measure to amend the state constitution with The Green Amendment.

This amendment is a 15-word addition to the New York State Constitution: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water and a healthful environment.”

It would provide important protections as a constitutional right for all communities in New York. The sponsoring groups include Environmental Advocates of New York, Tony Del Plato is a trustee and water commissioner for the village of Interlaken, a member of the Executive Committee of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Intermunicipal Organization, an innkeepe and a former Moosewood Restaurant partner.

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