Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration & Protection Plan

The 2017 Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration & Protection Plan

The Restoration and Protection Plan — click to download (RPP Final 2017)

Also see the RPP and other documents at the Cayuga Lake Watershed Intermunicipal Organization website.

The Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration & Protection Plan — Continuity, change, and protection of our water resources (2018)

Hilary Lambert
Steward/Executive Director, CLWN

It is a challenge to unify the administratively complex Cayuga Lake watershed for restoration, conservation and protection. This 785-square mile watershed includes:

  • Three counties on the lakeshore (Cayuga, Seneca and Tompkins) – and smaller upland portions of three more (Cortland, Tioga, and Schuyler).
  • 45 municipalities (cities, towns and villages).
  • Numerous regional, state and federal agencies.
  • Development pressures that pull the south end toward the Southern Tier and New York City; and the north end toward Syracuse, Rochester, and Lake Ontario.

Communities across the watershed enhance economic vitality while protecting the environment by working together. The Cayuga Lake Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (IO) first developed a collaborative management plan and planning process for the Cayuga Lake watershed in the late 1990s. Its partners included the watershed’s 45 municipalities and county, state and federal agencies. The original Restoration & Protection Plan was issued in 2001, and can be viewed at the IO’s website,, with the accompanying encyclopedic Watershed Characterization.

New watershed challenges have arisen since 2001

Since the first Plan was issued in 2001, challenges have arisen that negatively affect water quality and quantity and the seemingly modest goal of a sustainable, healthy watershed.

These include climate change and extreme weather, resulting in the need for farmers and other producers to adapt; shifting patterns and seasons for wildlife, birds, tree species, other plants and biota; and shifting political priorities that stifle our ability to protect natural resources.

These changes affect human use and enjoyment of land and water, and bring with them new hazards, including invasive species, Harmful Algal Blooms, large-scale energy development, drought, and emerging contaminants.

The surface water resources of the Cayuga Lake Watershed include wetlands, streams, springs, waterfalls, creeks and the lake itself. The area is also rich in groundwater resources. These waters are used for drinking, farming, wine-making, cheeses, beers, liquors; recreation; industrial uses and wastewater treatment; home and business uses; natural habitat for plants and animals; to replenish depletion due to pollution, drought and overuse; ecosystem functions, and other uses.

All watershed residents, visitors, businesses, and municipalities share and benefit from these water resources. All share the responsibility of protecting them.

Updating the Plan: A public process, 2015-2017

In 2015-2017, thanks to a Town of Ithaca-sponsored state grant, the IO and Cayuga Lake Watershed Network (Network) joined forces to update the plan, drawing in hundreds of people, dozens of agencies, and numerous experts to update the plan and its recommendations for action to protect our water resources. The 2017 Plan can be viewed at the Network’s website under the “Watershed” heading

The 2017 goals of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration and Protection Plan (RPP):

To inspire, to prioritize actions and strategies, and to bring about legislative change vital to protecting and preserving Cayuga Lake and its watershed. By supporting this plan, the Intermunicipal Organization (IO), municipalities, farmers, residents, private and public partners, and watershed stakeholder nonprofit organizations can build a productive economy which sustains a healthy watershed.

Next-steps action

A grant has been awarded to the IO and Town of Ithaca by the NYS Department of State, supporting an IO staffer to develop water-protective, state-fundable proposals with engaged municipalities. Under the leadership of IO Chair Tee-Ann Hunter of Ithaca, a Watershed Summit is planned for spring 2018, bringing together municipal officials, public works departments and agencies from around Cayuga Lake to encourage involvement with the IO and new grant funding opportunities.

The new Plan is an excellent source for answering questions you may have about the lake and its creeks. Check out the Table of Contents and peruse such topics as Agriculture, Stormwater, Wastewater, and Water Quality Education, among others.

Cooperation between municipalities and active citizen participation are critical factors for the success of the new Plan, and for the future good health of our lake, creeks, streams, springs, waterfalls, and wetlands.

2016 Progress Report on the Watershed Plan Update

During 2015-6, we received over 300 complete, detailed responses to our public survey about Cayuga Lake and its creeks. Thank you! Public comments and recommendations are a very important for watershed protection into the future, as part of the updated plan.

A public meeting will be held in February 2017 to inform about the plan’s major findings and changes from the original 2000 version. As examples of what’s new – climate change, water quantity and drought, and invasive species – all new concerns and challenges since 2000.

One of the questions in the public questionnaire was: Please choose the top five actions that could most effectively protect or restore the watershed. Out of the three hundred and two respondents to that question, we selected the top ten replies:

  1. Improving farming practices to reduce runoff and erosion. 75% of all 302 respondents.
  2. Improving protection of wetlands and riparian corridors/buffers (land along the lake, creeks and streams). 65%.
  3. Improving stormwater management and erosion control. 62%.
  4. Improving control of invasive species. 51%.
  5. Fostering stewardship through education and citizen engagement. 44%.
  6. Improving communications, collaboration and partnerships across municipal and agency boundaries. 42%.
  7. Improving private wastewater systems (septic systems). 39%.
  8. Improving public wastewater systems management. 38%.
  9. Providing lawn care education to reduce erosion and lawn chemicals runoff. 27%.
  10. Improving forestry management. 10%.

September 2015 Progress Report on the Watershed Plan Update

Tee-Ann Hunter
Chair, Intermunicipal Organization of the Cayuga Lake Watershed

As a member of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (IO), the Town of Ithaca has accepted funding from the New York State Department of State (NYS DOS) to oversee an update of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration and Protection Plan (RPP). During 2015 and into 2016, the Intermunicipal Organization is partnering with the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network (Network) and numerous others to conduct this update.

The original plan was completed in 2001, the result of a watershed-wide process that drew together town and village officials, local and regional agencies, experts and local residents via meetings and presentations. The group developed a long-range visionary plan, harnessing the energy of the watershed’s 45 municipalities to evaluate the condition of Cayuga Lake and its tributaries, and formulate restoration and protection strategies.

As a result of the original plan (available at, IO member municipalities have been awarded six rounds of funding from NYS DOS totaling nearly $300,000 for projects devoted to streambank stabilization, habitat restoration, and flood control. In addition, the IO supports public engagement and youth education through the Floating Classroom, which provides scholarships, lake access, STEM enrichment cruises and “Trout in the Classroom” programs for over 2,500 students annually.

Hilary Lambert, the Network’s steward, is coordinating the 16-month update process with information about the process and opportunities for public input available on the Network’s website ( An important part of the process is hearing from the public. A current opportunity for providing input is an online questionnaire seeking comments, observations, and recommendations from watershed residents, available online here:

It is important for the people within the watershed to let their municipalities and New York State know how they value the watershed and how they view its condition. I hope you will take the opportunity to fill out the online questionnaire. Our beautiful and invaluable water resources will need our continual attention and care in the coming years and an updated Restoration and Protection Plan plays an important part in those efforts. This plan is funded by the NYS Department of State through the Title 11 Environmental Protection Fund.

March 2015: Cayuga Lake’s Watershed Plan to be Updated

Hilary Lambert
Steward, Cayuga Lake Watershed Network

Throughout 2015 and into 2016, the Network is teamed with the watershed’s Intermunicipal Organization (IO) and numerous others to update the Cayuga Lake Watershed Restoration and Protection Plan (RPP).

The original RPP was completed in 2000, the outcome of a complex watershed-wide process that drew together town and village officials, local and regional agencies, experts and local residents via meetings and presentations. This wide-ranging diverse group developed a long-range, visionary plan, harnessing the energy of the lake’s 45 municipalities in protecting Cayuga Lake.

In the years since, with steep funding cuts and hard times for many communities, the RPP has largely fallen from use, and the hoped-for funds for towns and villages to repair or improve water-related infrastructure have not been forthcoming, following an excellent beginning. In recent years, municipal participation in the IO had fallen to about a dozen communities. The IO’s central activity has been the support of its educational outreach program, the Floating Classroom, which provides Trout in the Classroom programs and educational cruises for middle schoolers and the general public.

Meanwhile, efforts were underway via IO leader Darby Kiley and others to obtain state funding for a plan update. Thanks to Darby’s tenacity and long-term support by Barb Stewart of Interlaken, Lynn Leopold of Lansing, Roxy Johnston of Ithaca, Deb Grantham and the Network, Bill Foster of the Floating Classroom, Herb Engman and Rich De Paulo of the Town of Ithaca and others, the RPP is being updated and the IO renewed under new leadership by Tee-Ann Hunter of Ithaca.

Old and new issues and concerns

With funding from the NY Department of State and support by the Town of Ithaca, the Network’s steward, Hilary Lambert, is coordinating the 16-month update process. Following a kickoff meeting early in 2015, Lambert and IO members are developing a public participation plan for the watershed’s municipalities, counties and residents, and seeking qualified members for committees to update the watershed vision and goals, plan outcomes, and to review and update the original RPP’s sections about the state of the lake.

These include Water Quality Status; Water Quality Issues and Areas of Concern; Strategies, Recommendations & Management Options; Public Participation; Coordination, Collaboration, and Partnerships; Watershed Education; Agricultural Practices; Stormwater Management & Erosion Control; Wastewater Systems Management; Hazardous Waste Management; Monitoring & Assessment; Wetland, Shoreline & Riparian Corridor Management; Forestry and Silviculture Management; Regulatory Management.

Times have changed since the RPP was last partially updated in 2004. Much of our work, communication and governance are today conducted online. In addition to the issues listed above, issues now at the forefront include climate change, invasive species, localized agriculture, natural gas and other energy issues, and the growth in renewable energy sources and their use.

Benefits to municipalities, counties – and the watershed!

The Network, IO and partners old and new encourage watershed residents to support your local municipality’s participation in this process. Long-term payoffs of this renewed process for villages, towns, cities and counties include improved regional coordination of services, shared communications and knowledge, and the development of an IO staff position to help watershed communities obtain water-related funding. For this process to succeed, we will need widespread cooperation and participation across the 870-mile Cayuga Lake watershed.

Last but not least, an updated RPP and renewed IO will provide sustainable, long-term protection for the continued high quality of our streams, wetlands, creeks and lake. These beautiful, awe-inspiring, and invaluable water resources will need our continual attention and care during this era of rapid change and development.

Stay informed

To be added to our RPP Process Update email list, please send an email request to Hilary Lambert or leave a message at the Network’s office number (607)-319 0475. We’ll be updating the IO website and launching a Facebook page soon. The first of two public participation meetings will take place in a few months, along with meetings with stakeholder groups, governments and agencies. This plan is funded by the NYS Department of State through the Title 11 Environmental Protection Fund.

Additional information