Skaneateles Lake Watershed Ag Program celebrates 25th Anniversaryby Troy Bishopp

SKANEATELES, NY – Defensive end Chris Long remarked, “I do believe that clean water is the most efficient way to change the world.”

This charge starts at the local level. For 25 years, the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Ag Program (SLWAP) has taken on this mission to carry out a cost-effective, innovative program for the farming community that upholds the high drinking water quality standards of Skaneateles Lake and its tributaries.

The City of Syracuse established the SLWAP in 1994 as an alternative to a costly filtration system required by the 1986 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. SLWAP is a voluntary program spearheaded by the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District, and serves portions of Onondaga, Cortland and Cayuga counties within the watershed. SLWAP served as a pilot for the statewide NYS Agricultural Environmental Management Program (AEM).

The SLWAP is a cooperative effort between the City of Syracuse, the Soil & Water Conservation Districts and Cornell Cooperative Extension associations of Onondaga, Cortland and Cayuga counties, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and voluntarily by the Skaneateles Lake watershed farmers. Principal funding is provided by the City of Syracuse.

Over 80 guests, including farmers in the Skaneateles Lake Watershed, county officials, past and present employees and many collaborative agencies gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of protecting water quality. The evening was informational and inspirational, as it highlighted the work done and recognized some outstanding partners and employees.

The attendees first heard Dr. Kim Schulz of SUNY ESF speak on aquatic invasives – in particular, quagga and zebra mussels and their possible impact on harmful algal blooms (HABs). Schulz presented the findings of her study on Owasco Lake that demonstrated the increasing number of invasive mussels – over 25,000 mussels were recorded in one square meter. The abundance of these mussels leads to a host of questions on their negative contributions to sporadic HABs and lake health.

Issues include the possibility of these mussels contributing new phosphorus, stirring up legacy phosphorus from decades of erosion and sedimentation that has settled on the bottom of the lakes and the impact of their filtration allowing more sunlight, therefore increasing temperatures of surface waters. Schulz emphasized the importance of boat washing and inspection to prevent the spread of these and all invasive organisms, as they can be spread by microscopic larvae.

The 2019 Environmental Steward of the Year Award was presented to the City of Syracuse. Mayor Ben Walsh had the pleasure of receiving the award as well as issuing a proclamation recognizing the SLWAP and all of the people who participate in and support the program. The award recognizes the 25 years of protecting the water quality of Skaneateles Lake and the innovative work that has been accomplished with this program. “It is because this nominee has helped so many to ‘effectively use their natural resources,’ go above and beyond or ‘over the top’ by educating their neighbors and peers and the rest of the county about stewardship, that we are proud to recognize the City of Syracuse’s Department of Water’s Watershed Agricultural Program,” said Executive Director Mark Burger.

Onondaga Soil & Water Conservation District’s Administrative Assistant Maggie Connelly was recognized for her 20 years of dedicated service and thanked, as she retires.

District Program Manager Douglas Fisher was the recipient of the New York Association of Conservation Districts’ 2019 Commendation Award. This award recognizes a district employee for superior professional achievement. Nominated by the full local district board, he was lauded for over 30 years as a field technician and his wealth of knowledge in protecting and engaging with public and private stakeholders to best utilize and protect the natural resources of Onondaga County.

Wayne Norris, second-generation dairy and crop farmer and District Board Treasurer, received a Special Service Award to recognize his 30 years of service. Norris joined the Board of Directors in June of 1988 and became treasurer in 1994. His affiliation on the board is “Grange Representative,” as member of the Pomona Grange of Onondaga County. “Wayne has traveled across New York State and the country to represent districts and New York State agriculture at local, state and national Soil & Water Conservation meetings. These efforts were intended to significantly help all districts more efficiently and effectively carry out their objectives and programs,” said Burger.

Each year the district takes the opportunity to recognize a municipality that has undertaken innovative conservation projects. The 2019 Municipal Partner Award was given to the Lysander Highway Department, which completed several conservation projects, including the course correction of the creek near Dinglehole Road and several culvert pipe replacements.

For more information visit