Photo: Chris Ray

Our New Initiative for Immediate Action to Protect Water

Water Quality > 5-Point Initiative

First Published Fall 2019 – In response to increasing water quality concerns, the Finger Lakes Land Trust has launched an initiative to expand the organization’s current water protection efforts.  You can download a PDF of this 5-point initiative to share with friends and colleagues who love the Finger Lakes.

“Protecting Water Quality in the Finger Lakes Region” – Our 5-Point Initiative (PDF)

Toxic algae outbreaks within each of the Finger Lakes have generated alarming headlines over the last few years.  Their persistence is motivating the Land Trust to take immediate action to protect our lakes, streams, and drinking water.

Since 2017, each of the 11 Finger Lakes has experienced at least one outbreak of toxic algae, and for most of our lakes it has become a regular, annual occurrence.  While research into the specific causes of outbreaks in our region is still underway, there is a growing consensus that a combination of climate change, excessive nutrient runoff into the lakes, and the effects of introduced non-native, invasive species are to blame.

Shifting weather patterns, including hotter summers and increasingly intense rain events that sweep nutrients into the lakes, create conditions favorable to cyanobacteria.  Nutrients enter the lakes from a variety of sources, including agricultural fields, roadside ditches, and poorly maintained septic systems.  Researchers suspect that invasive quagga mussels might also be altering the balance of nutrients within the lakes in a way that favors these outbreaks.

While important questions remain to be answered, there is a clear need to reduce excess nutrients washing into our lakes.  After a late spring “gully washer,” one need only look out over the south end of most of our Finger Lakes to observe the substantial sediment plumes flowing from the lakes’ major tributaries.

The Land Trust is reaffirming our commitment to protect the region’s clean waters by escalating our work in five strategic areas:

Cayuga Lake.  Photo: Bill Hecht

Greater Emphasis on Lakeshore & Stream Corridor Protection

Protecting lakeshore is a longstanding priority of the Land Trust and the organization already protects lakeshore properties on seven of the eleven Finger Lakes. With support from New York State and private funders, the Land Trust has been increasing efforts to save our last remaining undeveloped lakeshore as well as protect pristine frontage on key tributaries. Recent lakeshore acquisitions include significant projects on Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco lakes and the Land Trust is currently working to protect additional shoreline on Cayuga and Seneca lakes.

Conserved Farmland.  Photo: FLLT

New Focus on Creating Natural Buffers Along Our Streams

Many streamside areas have been cleared of trees and shrubs to allow for agriculture or development. To restore this important natural filter system, the Land Trust will plant trees and shrubs along streams in areas that will be permanently protected. Long-term management of buffer sites will ensure that these plantings can withstand competition from invasive shrubs.

Conserved Wetland.  Photo: Andy Zepp

Restoring Streams & Wetlands to Slow Down Storm Runoff

For nearly 200 years, drainage systems in our region have been enhanced by each generation – in an attempt to dry farm fields and developed areas in the spring and to keep our roads from flooding. At the same time, these efforts have the dual-effect of increasing nutrient runoff to our lakes. To restore some of the resilience of our original landscape, the Land Trust will work with partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore filled wetlands and streams that have been straightened. On a pilot basis, we will also create detention basins to slow storm water runoff during intense weather events.

Toxic algae bloom. Photo: Jeff Katris

Creating an Educational Resource Hub About Toxic Algae

The Land Trust is curating an educational resource about toxic algae as part of our Water Quality web site ( The pages will provide easily accessible information and demonstrate actions individuals can take to reduce nutrient runoff. Staff will be updating the information available on the site regularly and will also be out in the field meeting with landowners, community organizations, town officials and others.

Skaneateles Lake.  Photo: Bill Hecht

Strengthen Partnerships & Pilot New Programs with our Lake Associations

Each of our eleven Finger Lakes is served by a nonprofit lake association or watershed group. The Land Trust is committed to working in partnership with these organizations. For example, we recently developed a formal agreement with the Skaneateles Lake Association and The Nature Conservancy to ensure the coordination of our efforts and maximize our collective impact in the Skaneateles Lake watershed. We are working in partnership with the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association to launch a new series of watershed-based educational programs that will be launched in 2020. Elsewhere in the region, we will tailor our approach to complement and strengthen local watershed protection efforts to ensure the best result.

Synergy & Impact

Each of these programs will be coordinated with the other elements of the initiative to create synergy and maximize impact. As these efforts move forward, we’ll share periodic updates through The Land Steward and our monthly email newsletter. You will also be able to find the latest information at


You can download a PDF of this 5-point initiative and share with friends who love the Finger Lakes.


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