Cayuga Lake's Serious Water Pollution Problems

Cayuga Lake in the vicinity of the proposed discharge has extensive water pollution problems caused by point source discharges from wastewater treatment plants as well as non-point sources, such as stormwater and agricultural runoff, leaking toxic sites and erosion from streambanks and roadbanks. Those pollution sources have caused algal blooms, aquatic weed infestations, turbidity and high levels of fecal coliform bacteria that impair public bathing.

Southern Cayuga Lake's ills are so widespread and persistent that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation included the lake in its 1996 Priority Waterbodies Listing and determined "that the resources necessary to address the problem are beyond what are currently (emphasis in the original) available."7 Yet the lake has never been the subject of a full-scale water quality investigation or a management plan.

Pursuant to section 303(d) of the U.S. Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C.1313(d), New York also listed Cayuga Lake as a threatened Class AA(T) water quality limited segment for nutrient and silt pollution.8 This listing is required for waters where effluent limitations required by federal law are insufficiently stringent to implement applicable water quality standards.

Pursuant to section 122.4 of the U. S. Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C.1313(d), no permit may be granted: "To a new source or a new discharger, if the discharge from its construction or operation will cause or contribute to the violation of water quality standards." Since Cayuga Lake has been determined to be threatened by nutrient pollution, the Lake Source Cooling Project's proposed "new" discharge of phosphorus should clearly be prohibited. Since construction of the project could exacerbate silt pollution hazards, the permit also should be denied.

Finally, pursuant to Section 303(d)(1)(C), each state is required to establish for waters included in the 303(d) listing "the total maximum daily load" (TMDL) for those pollutants which are necessary to implement the applicable water quality standard. That TMDL has yet to be adopted for Cayuga Lake and may not be forthcoming for many years.

Prepared by the Cayuga Lake Defense Fund (CLDF).
For more information, Call: 275-9054 or 272-7914 or email

CLDF 1998