Community members from across western New York came together in Rochester Thursday to address the issue of pollution in the Genesee River, and create an action plan for the immediate future.
The summit, run by the Center for Environmental Initiatives, was spurred by a new study which suggests human activity along the Genesee River Basin is having a direct impact on the water quality in Lake Ontario.
Lead author of the research, Joe Makarewicz from the College at Brockport, is urging communities to tackle the issue at a local level.
He says reducing run off from agricultural activities and wastewater treatment plants would go a long way toward improving water quality.
In particular, he says, it would address the levels of phosphorus, a chemical which fuels algae growth.
“Upgrading waste water treatment plants, all the ones on the Genesee River, 25 or so, to tertiary treatment actually decreases the amount of phosphorus by 10 percent. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 38,000 kilograms of phosphorus.”
Makarewicz says phosphorus levels would be reduced by an additional seven percent if large dairy farms change the way manure is spread on fields within the Genesee River basin.
The Farm Bill, recently passed by Congress, will take steps to help reduce runoff issues and improve water quality through a new program. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program will be targeted at areas in need of conservation, including the Great Lakes system.
Makarewicz says if the problem lies within local communities, so do the solutions.
“Sixty percent of the phosphorus entering Lake Ontario and the near shore are due to activities from people. Whether it be waste water treatment, whether it be agricultural activities, what that suggests is that we can do something about it.”
Increased water quality has recreational, health, and environmental benefits Makarewicz says.
The Genesee River Basin spans portions of nine counties in western New York, from below the Pennsylvania border all the way up to the Rochester area.
The offices of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-Rochester) were all represented at Thursday’s summit, along with community members from several counties within the basin.