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Report says much of Onondaga Lake is swimmable


A report released this spring labels much of Onondaga Lake as swimmable, and Onondaga County officials say this report should be a springboard to further discussions about the future of the lake.  

The Upstate Freshwater Institute says the northern two-thirds of the lake, that was once called the most polluted in the country, is swimmable. Tom Rhoads, Onondaga County’s Water and Environment Protection Commissioner, says that doesn’t necessarily mean residents should grab their swimsuits and jump in.

“When we say it’s now a swimmable resource, what we’re asking people to do, is change their perspectives and change their behaviors, so that they are now more engaged in making this lake a real opportunity, a real resource,” said Rhoads. 

The lake was deemed unswimmable 75 years ago, following years of industrial pollution. The swimmable designation is based on low bacteria counts and high water clarity.  Rhoads notes the south end of the lake will probably never get that designation because of high turbidity, caused by soil that flows in from the Tully Valley mudboils.

Rhoads says the county has to look to the future, now that it is nearing the end of a federally mandated clean-up.  

“In our legacy era, we treated the lake much differently, because we felt our individual actions didn’t matter," said Rhoads. "But now, we’re at a point in the recovery of the lake, where individual actions do matter.”

And that means continued emphasis on Save the Rain initiatives that keep more storm water out of the lake, as well as simple things like encouraging people not to litter.  And Rhoads also hopes that the decision on the future of Interstate 81 takes into account new storm water management systems that keep storm runoff and road debris out of the lake.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.