Honorable Peter Lopez
Region 2 Administrator
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
New York, NY 10007-1866
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York
Albany, NY 12224
Martha E. Pollack
President of Cornell University
300 Day Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
My name is __ and I live at __. I am contacting you because ____.
I write respectfully to request that you take immediate, urgent action to make sure that a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is adopted for Cayuga Lake that strictly fulfills all applicable requirements pursuant to Section 303(d) of the U.S. Clean Water Act in order to remediate documented water quality impairments that have threatened public health and the environment for more than 50 years.
In 1998, Cayuga Lake was included in the National 303(d) Registry of Impaired Waters because it had been engulfed in algae, aquatic weeds and turbidity since the early 1960s. The lake supplies drinking water to more than 40,000 residents and required a comprehensive watershed clean up TMDL as a "high priority" in 2004. After decades of inaction, no TMDL has yet been adopted.
I specifically request that:
a) a TMDL comprehensive watershed clean up plan be adopted for Cayuga Lake that HALTS the Lake Source Cooling untreated discharge of Soluble Reactive Phosphorus into the shallow southeastern area of the lake where Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and water quality impairments are rampant. Soluble Reactive Phosphorus is quickly absorbed by algae and can cause massive HABs;
b) Cornell's Lake Source Cooling effluent discharge must be: a) extended "off the shelf" in order to send the Soluble Reactive Phosphorus back down to cold, dark depths of Cayuga Lake where HABs cannot occur, b) converted into a closed loop system or c) treated to remove all phosphorus; and
c) the Cayuga Lake TMDL also must require the prompt clean up of all nutrient and other pollution sources in the lake's watershed. The TMDL must require a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment to be conducted over its entire watershed in order to pinpoint where phosphorus and other nutrients originate so that the contamination sources can be investigated and remediated on a comprehensive basis. Shorelines and tributaries must be assessed on a top-priority basis.
Lake Source Cooling's Improperly Granted Discharge Permit
In 1999, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) improperly granted a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit for Lake Source Cooling's untreated effluent release of once-through, non-contact cooling water containing Soluble Reactive Phosphorus. This SPDES permit was granted pursuant to authority that EPA delegated to DEC.
Cornell's Lake Source Cooling permitted effluent discharge specifically contravenes 40 C.F.R §122.4(i) because it contributes Soluble Reactive Phosphorus to an area of Cayuga Lake which has exceeded applicable nutrient and turbidity narrative water quality standards and guidance values for decades."
This concern was clearly communicated to DEC and EPA in a detailed: NRDC Cornell Lake Source Cooling Permit Letter
Algal pollution problems also were highlighted in an article in The New York Times that garnered national attention: Aid to Environment, Or Threat to Lake?; Cornell Pursues Pumping Plan, But Critics Fear Fouled Water
To EPA Region 2's credit, it quickly proposed a landmark 1999 agreement to address Cornell's contribution to Southern Cayuga Lake's water quality impairments, but the plan was never implemented due to opposition by DEC and Cornell. As stated in EPA's initial draft proposal, the proposed policy would have set a precedent that could be replicated on a national basis.
See: U. S. EPA's Failed 7/99 Landmark Lake Source Cooling/Cayuga Lake Clean Up Proposal
Water Pollution Is Documented to Have Grown Worse in Cayuga Lake Since Lake Source Cooling Began Operation
Since Lake Source Cooling began discharging approximately six percent of the phosphorus that enters Southern Cayuga Lake, Cornell's regulatory compliance monitoring data document that a key measure of algal biomass called chlorophyll a has increased up to more than 50% over an area of approximately 6,000 acres in the impaired section of the lake.
Cornell’s own 2008 Before-After-Control-Impact study documented a statistically significant correlation between the operation of Lake Source Cooling and an increase of chlorophyll a at Site 7, the site in the most impaired area of the Southern Lake, compared with the control Site 4.
See: Letter to Gov. Cuomo requesting that he take immediate action to eliminate massive water quality impairments in Southern Cayuga Lake - 5-23-2012
Cornell's own Environmental Impact Analysis revealed that its Soluble Reactive Phosphorus discharge would endanger drinking water drawn from Cayuga Lake during warm weather months when HABs are most common.
See: Lake Source Cooling Project DEIS - Approximate Extent of Soluble Reactive Phosphorus Plume in August, September, and October
Massive algae and weed infestations in Cayuga Lake have intensified in the decades since Lake Source Cooling began operation. Beginning in 2017, unprecedented HABs engulfed the area adjoining the Lake Source Cooling discharge.
See: Photos of Cyanobacteria Algae Pollution Concerns 7/30/2017 West side of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, NY
In 2019, HABs in Cayuga Lake were worse than ever. A total of 99 HABs was reported in Cayuga Lake between 7/13/19 and 9/24/19. Many of those HABs were reported as "confirmed with high toxins" or characterized as "widespread or lakewide."
In conclusion, if the Lake Source Cooling untreated effluent discharge of Soluble Reactive Phosphorus into the most impaired area of Cayuga Lake is not eliminated as part of any TMDL adopted for this historic waterbody, a disastrous precedent would be set at a time when once-through, non-contact cooling water releases are subject to more rigorous regulatory scrutiny and HABs are receiving greater attention than ever.
As a matter of national water quality protection importance, Lake Source Cooling's improperly authorized discharge must be halted once and for all so that water quality in Cayuga Lake can be restored to regulatory compliance. Any TMDL that is adopted under EPA and DEC authority must strictly fulfill all legal and regulatory requirements
Equal attention must be focused on alleviating and eliminating all sources of phosphorus, other nutrients, turbidity and toxic contaminants in Cayuga Lake's watershed that threaten water quality in the lake.
This effort must particularly focus on halting agricultural activities that cause uncontrolled nutrient releases documented in Cayuga Lake's watershed, notably by mandating manure spill reporting and clean up comparable to hazardous substance regulatory requirements. Riparian buffers also must be established to safeguard waterways from non-point pollution contributions.
See: New York State Reported Agricultural Manure Spills Map
Farming is an essential part of New York's economy and culture, but far greater efforts must be made to assist farmers in resolving pollution problems that current agricultural practices cause. I urge you all to work closely with farmers, concerned citizens and other governmental authorities to eliminate water contamination hazards.
As a cautionary tale, multiple New York City reservoirs were the subject of an inadequate TMDL adopted circa 2000 that has failed to halt HABs recently reported in both the Croton, Ashokan and West of Hudson reservoir systems. As a result, the drinking water for approximately ten million New Yorkers is imperiled by HABs because drinking water supplied from those upland reservoirs is not treated to remove microcystins that are currently the subject of the fourth round of the national Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule program.
The TMDL adopted to restore water quality in Cayuga Lake must be comprehensive so that drinking water drawn from this impaired waterbody is safeguarded from microcystins and all other pollution hazards. No further delay most be tolerated in the clean up of water quality impairments that plague Cayuga Lake.
Unless and until that goal is achieved, water quality in Cayuga will continue to violate the Clean Water Act. That lack of regulatory enforcement is unacceptable.
Thank you for your consideration.