Oswego County Legislature Chairman's Office, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126

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Aug. 7, 2006

Oswego River Cleanup Is a Cause for Celebration!

The Oswego River derives its name from an Iroquois word meaning "the pouring out place." That description is an understatement -- all of the Finger Lakes basin and Seneca and Oneida rivers drain into the Oswego. It is the second largest tributary on all of Lake Ontario; typically between 18,000 and 20,000 cubic feet per second of water flow between the banks in Oswego.

With all of its historical significance to our area, the river made headlines again recently, when it became the first U.S. location to be removed from the International Great Lakes Areas of Concern list. Nineteen years ago, the Oswego River met the criteria for an area of concern because of its degraded water quality -- prolific algae growth caused by excessive nutrients entering the river; health restrictions on eating the fish; loss of fish habitat; and shrinking fish populations.

Several of those conditions have now been corrected, and officials from the EPA, New York State and Canadian government agencies visited Oswego last week to enjoy our beautiful river and officially celebrate its improvements.

The milestone represents the hard work of many people who were involved in this process - a partnership of private citizens, the scientific community, local governments, industries, and county, state, and federal agencies.

During the early 1980s, there were 43 Areas of Concern identified on both sides of the Great Lakes, from Superior to Ontario, and tributaries along the way. Thirty-one of the original 43 sites are located on the U.S. side.

What has changed since then?

  • The Oswego River Citizens Advisory Committee, and later the Oswego River Remedial Advisory Committee led efforts to improve the river's quality. They gathered information, solicited public input, and in conjunction with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, developed plans to correct the impairments.
  • Modifications in sewer treatment infrastructure have helped to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the river. Excessive algae growth is no longer considered an environmental impairment.
  • Health advisories still exist in eating fish taken from the river, but the advisories are linked to contaminated sediments in Lake Ontario. The EPA has determined that the source of the problem continues to be outside the river.
  • Negotiated changes in the license agreement governing water flow over the Varick Dam in Oswego, now owned by Brookfield Power, have established the increased minimum flow that is needed to support fish habitat and fish populations.

I want to acknowledge one county employee who has long been involved in this success story. Senior planner Karen Noyes, from the department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning, is chairperson of the Oswego River Remedial Advisory Committee.

The recovery of the Oswego River is particularly important for our county because we have such a significant amount of water-based natural resources. In communities along the river, the focus has expanded from corrective action to protecting the river and enhancing it for recreational use.

Visiting Oswego last week, Alan Sternberg, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, spoke highly of the efforts that have been put forth to make the Oswego River so attractive for residents and visitors alike. He noted that economic development and environmental protection go "hand in hand."

I congratulate all the many citizens who participated in the partnership over the last 19 years. Your vision and perseverance will have a lasting impact on our community.

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