Canary in the coal mine


Since leaving Baltimore Woods in July, I have been working on a life goal to bike around all the Finger Lakes. So far, I have biked around seven of the lakes. The project has profoundly deepened my connection to this region and provided insights into how fortunate we are to find Skaneateles Lake in a state of good water quality with invasive weeds like milfoil largely eradicated. The chamber has done a great thing in recognizing Bob Werner for his leadership in these efforts.

The efforts of Bob and the Skaneateles Lake Association should not be taken for granted. Take a look at the four western-most Finger Lakes: Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice and Honeoye listed from west to east. Conesus and Honeoye offer many spectacular views of the lakes. This is in marked contrast to Hemlock, which is one of the water sources for the city of Rochester. There is a high level of protection for Hemlock Lake overseen by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the city of Rochester. The lake shore is not developed, so to bike around the lake one has to climb the steep surrounding hills as there are not roads rimming the lake shores as there is in Conesus and Honeoye.

Largely due to this protection, Hemlock’s water quality concerns are minor compared with those of Conesus and Honeoye, where development and camps adorn the water’s edge at an astonishing rate. As a result, both lakes suffer from invasive weed beds and water quality issues like algal blooms. In the case of Honeoye, the toxic algal blooms give off a malodorous stench in places and beaches have been closed for recreation such as swimming. Fish populations in both lakes have been impacted as well.

Is Honeoye Lake the canary in the coal mine for the Finger Lakes? Since Skaneateles is a water supply for this community as well as the city of Syracuse, should we be concerned that our lake could suffer the same fate down the road? Certainly, Skaneateles Lake is far deeper than Honeoye, and its higher elevation and steep surrounding valleys give it an extra measure of protection. But Skaneateles, unlike its sister water supply lakes Hemlock and Canadice does not have the high level of protection from development of its western lakes that serve as municipal water supplies for large cities.

Does development leave Skaneateles Lake vulnerable to water quality compromise? You don’t have to bike around the lakes to observe what has peaked my concern. You could take a drive around the lakes and enjoy a lovely scenic experience they offer. Going around them has enhanced my appreciation for the good work of Bob Werner, but it has also made me worried about the fate of our lake if we don’t take a serious look at development along the lake shores and in the watershed.



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