ITHACA, N.Y. –– The Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT) is extending its land protection project in the Owasco Lake watershed. On June 17 the organization announced that it has protected 93 acres of watershed land shared between Cayuga and Tompkins counties with a conservation easement –– adding on to a previous easement in the area. 

The conservation easement legally limits future development while still allowing the land to be privately owned. According to the FLLT website, landowners who donate conservation easements may be eligible for both state and federal tax benefits.

Donated from Katherine Sutphin’s property in 2019, “the property includes wetlands, agricultural fields, mature woodlands, and 4,710 feet of frontage on the Owasco Inlet and an unnamed tributary,” the FLLT site says. “This natural area serves as a habitat for a variety of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Protecting land in this area also guards the water quality of Owasco Lake by filtering runoff to the inlet.” 

This is not the first bit of land that FLLT has acquired in this area –– in October 2020, they acquired 38 acres in the Owasco Flats, which serves as a vital water quality buffer for the lake. FLLT plans to partner with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to tackle wetland restoration efforts on the property throughout 2021. 

The land protection projects are part of an effort to address the larger issue of water quality in both Cayuge and Tompkins counties. Owasco Lake is “affected by bacteriological contamination and excessive growth of aquatic vegetation and algae. Sources of bacteria include wildlife and waterfowl, agricultural runoff and residential septic systems,” although this source is minimal according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

The DEC is working to reduce the amount of bacteria and pollutants in the lake and this latest acquisition by FLLT will be a major help. Owasco, as well as Cayuga Lake, are both part of a larger Finger Lakes monitoring program because of the pollutants and harmful algal blooms (HABs) that occur and ultimately affect the water quality. 

General bacteria contamination and HABs also affect recreational uses of the lakes. Physical contact with the lake water, especially near HABs is strongly discouraged and those boating and fishing are encouraged to be aware. If a HAB is observed, individuals are encouraged to contact the habshotline@gmail.com or to call the Community Science Institute at (607) 257-6606. 

Mikayla Rovenolt

Mikayla Rovenolt interns with the Ithaca Voice and is also a contributing writer for Queers for a Cause, an online based Lgbtq news and advocacy blog. Tips or stories? Contact mikaylarovenolt@gmail.com.