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Help Clean Up Cayuga Lake NOW!!!/Urgent Citizens Alert


Local citizens have waged a grueling 14-year campaign to save Southern Cayuga Lake from irreparable pollution harm. The culmination of that effort might be at hand. I write to implore you to do all you can to help us safeguard the future of our incredibly precious and beleaguered lake.

Please sign this self-explanatory coalition letter and ask everyone you know to sign it too:

Cayuga Lake's Pollution Hazards

Cayuga Lake is inundated each summer with massive algae and aquatic weed infestations that clog virtually the entire area in front of Stewart Park from the east shore to the west shore. This pollution, combined with high levels of turbidity (suspended silt) and bacteria, has prevented public bathing at the park since the early 1960s.

Historic photo of Ithacans swimming at Stewart Park:

Photos of Cayuga Lake's algae and weed problems:

Cornell's Lake Source Cooling Facility

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not only failed to clean up Cayuga Lake for decades, it made its problems much worse by improperly granting Cornell's Lake Source Cooling facility a discharge permit in clear violation of the U. S. Clean Water Act.

The Lake Source Cooling Plant draws tens of millions of gallons of cold water per day from the depths of Cayuga Lake in order to air-condition the Cornell campus. The cooling water contains phosphorus that is dumped back into the shallow southeast corner of the lake where the algae and weeds are the worst. Phosphorus fertilizes the growth of aquatic plants.

This problem received national attention in The New York Times:

"It seems an environmentalist's dream: a system that can cool 10 million square feet of Cornell University dormitories, laboratories and computer rooms simply by pumping frigid water from the depths of a nearby lake. No more chlorofluorocarbons, the refrigerants that can destroy protective ozone in the atmosphere. An electric bill 80 percent smaller than for conventional air conditioners. To top it off, nothing goes back into the lake, except water that came from the lake in the first place."

“But an energetic group of local opponents insists that Cornell's $55 million plan to replace its aging air conditioners is actually an environmental nightmare. They say it could foster choking blooms of algae and bacteria at the south end of Cayuga Lake (emphasis added).”

Reading those words again after 14 years is heart-breaking because local activists warned the powers-that-be about the environmental calamity that now threatens Cayuga Lake, but to no avail:

Cornell's Environmental Impact Study acknowledged Lake Source Cooling's phosphorus threat to Cayuga Lake, but concluded there would be no pollution problems:

"Phosphorus added to the upper waters by the LSC system during the stratified period [June through October, not in the original] has the potential to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton. Excessive growth of phytoplankton is associated with degradation of the aquatic environment; water clarity decreases with increased algal growth and the public perceives a less desirable recreational and aesthetic resource." (See page 2.3.3-20)

"The LSC phosphorus load represents a small monthly increase (between 3 and 7 percent) to the existing TP [total phosphorus, not in the original] budget of the southern lake during the stratified period.” (See page 2.3.3-31)

"LSC will increase SRP [soluble reactive phosphorus, not in the original] in the immediate vicinity of the outfall during the summer period when the background concentrations are currently low. ...The increase in concentration is very small, and any associated increase in algal production will have no discernable impact (emphasis added).” (See page 2.3.3-31)

Cornell's own Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) study has now documented an increase in cholorophyll a exceeding 50% in the southeast corner of Cayuga Lake since Lake Source Cooling began operation. Chlorophyll a is a measure of algal biomass. That study also determined that there is a statistically significant correlation between Lake Source Cooling's operation and the chlorophyll a increase.

Most shockingly, Cornell's own regulatory compliance monitoring documents that chlorophyll a has increased at seven out of eight locations over a nearly 6,000 acre area of Southern Cayuga Lake since Lake Source Cooling began operation.

The only chlorophyll a decrease was measured at Site 2, directly downgradient of the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge, where a facility upgrade reduced its phosphorus discharge. Unfortunately, that reduction involves an extremely limited area.

Take URGENT Action Today

Cornell has waged a relentless, disgraceful lobbying effort for more than a decade to avoid complying with its discharge permit's requirement to move the discharge pipe "off-the-shelf" into deeper water or treat its wastewater to remove phosphorus if a statistically-significant impact is documented.

DEC reportedly may allow Cornell to avoid complying with its permit requirements for an additional four years. In a clear conflict of interest, DEC also may allow Cornell to develop the Total Maximum Daily Load required to clean up Cayuga Lake. It is imperative that citizens make sure that DEC and Cornell do not make Cayuga Lake's problems worse.

Help, Help, Help:

1) Sign the coalition letter. Ask your family members, friends, elected officials, colleagues, organizations you belong to and everyone else you know to sign the letter. Work through your networks. It is super important to organize an immediate, powerful response to this deplorable situation.

2) If you are a Cornell student, faculty member, staffperson, alum, board member, contributor or have any meaningful connection to Cornell, also request that President David J. Skorton immediately require Lake Source Cooling to comply with its discharge permit: (607) 255-5201 and

3) Finally, please ask Governor Cuomo to fulfill the requests spelled out in the coalition letter: (518) 474-8390 and

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied. Don't Stop Till You Drop.

Do not hesitate to contact me if I can otherwise assist you. Thank you so much for your help.

Best regards,

Walter Hang

Learn more at:

Lake Source Cooling: