Oak Orchard Watershed Protection Alliance, 4/13/2011

posted Apr 23, 2011, 5:10 AM by Lynne Menz

Tracy and Frank Panczyszyn attended a meeting of Oak Orchard Watershed Protection Alliance on April 13th, 2011, at the Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension. In attendance were representatives of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Orleans County Pure Waters, NYS DEC, SUNY Brockport, US Gypsum, and Center for Environmental Protection (CEI). Most of this meeting was a presentation by CEI and NYS DEC on a study being prepared by CEI regarding the sources of excessive nutrients, especially phosphorus, in the Upper Oak Orchard Watershed, leading to impaired water quality, including algae bloom, weeds, and slime. The Upper Oak Orchard Watershed is south of Medina, north of I90, and west of Clarendon. It includes wetlands, farmland (crops and cattle), and most of the mucklands. The communities included in this area are Alabama, Oakfield, Elba, Barre, and Shelby. The largest single industry within this area with a significant discharge is US Gypsum.

The National Clean Water Act requires each state to identify waters within its boundaries not meeting water quality standards. Seven Water Sheds have been identified from the Niagara River to the St Lawrence, with Upper Oak Orchard as one of those watersheds. The Lower Oak Orchard Watershed, which includes Oak Orchard Creek north to Lake Ontario and tributaries east of the creek to Albion and Kendall, IS NOT one of the seven watersheds on the list to be studied. The most recent studies completed by CEI were the Upper and Lower Black Creek Watersheds. The purpose of the study is to quantify the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of pollutants causing violation of applicable state and national water standards, identify sources of the pollutants, and recommend water quality improvement strategies for the watersheds.

It had been determined that phosphorus was a major pollutant in the Upper Oak Orchard Watershed. Data to quantify levels of phosphorus is difficult to come by, but studies made over the last few years indicate average levels of phosphorus measured at Shelby Center, representing 95% of the watershed outflow, is nearly 5 times greater than what is considered an acceptable standard. The estimate of phosphorus levels in the Black Creek Watersheds are already at, or only slightly higher than, the acceptable standard.

Based on computer modeling developed by CEI, the estimated sources of phosphorus into the Upper Oak Orchard Watershed are: 54% farm animals (animal waste from dairy farms), 21% point source (waste treatment facilities, US Gypsum), 10% cropland (crop fertilizer and phosphorus generated naturally by mucklands), 6% ground water (?), 4% tile drainage (?), 3% hay and pasture lands (fertilizer), 2% septic systems. CEI has made assumptions on how potential improvement strategies might impact the output of phosphorus from these sources, with an estimated result still 2 ½ times greater than the acceptable standard. An "unofficial" statement made by one of the presenters was that the total amount of phosphorus discharging into Lake Ontario is greater from Oak Orchard Creek than that from the Genesee River. Also, that the total amount of phosphorus found in the Lower Oak Orchard Watershed (OONA’s back yard) is extremely high, but since water flows are relatively high, the concentration of phosphorus (which is the Clean Water Act’s measurable standard) is lower than that standard. It is assumed that the large percentage of phosphorus in the Lower Watershed is generated in the Upper Watershed.

The report on this study is now in the draft stage, pending review by DEC, and will be available for public review and comment around September, 2011. The purpose of this presentation to the Alliance was to brief on the purpose and progress of the study and to solicit input from knowledgeable and interested parties. Some of the inputs made by those in attendance may lead to "tweaking" the computer model to lesson the impact of US Gypsum, increase the impact of naturally generated phosphorus from the mucklands, and add caution to the study on the significant impact of dairy farms.

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