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Join Our 20-Year Battle to Clean Up Cayuga Lake and Halt Cornell's Lake Source Cooling Untreated Discharge of Soluble Reactive Phosphorus that Contributes to Harmful Algal Blooms

"I have not yet begun to fight." John Paul Jones

In That Spirit, Please Join our 20-Year Battle to Clean Up Cayuga Lake

Twenty years ago, Toxics Targeting could not protect Cayuga Lake from Cornell University's massive, untreated Lake Source Cooling effluent discharge that violated the U.S. Clean Water Act because it contained Soluble Reactive Phosphorus that contributed to existing water quality impairments caused by algae and weeds.

All activists should review the stunning documents which reveal how this irresponsible and shockingly complex environmental debacle came to pass: U. S. EPA's Failed 7/99 Landmark Lake Source Cooling/Cayuga Lake Clean Up Proposal

Fortunately, we now have an opportunity to succeed where earlier efforts failed. The battle to clean up Cayuga Lake has begun anew. Read my recently submitted:

Request That EPA Require a TMDL for Cayuga Lake that Eliminates Lake Source Cooling's Improperly Authorized Untreated Phosphorus Discharge and Serves as a National Model of Effective Watershed Clean Up

Greetings Activists,

I write to request that you help win an epic fight that could decide national public health and environmental enforcement policies for good or for ill.

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 plan called a Total Maximum Daily Load as a "high priority" in 2004.

No TMDL has been adopted because Cornell spent millions of dollars on self-serving consultant studies and incessantly lobbied Governor Cuomo to avoid halting its Lake Source Cooling discharge that pollutes Cayuga Lake to this very day. Cornell's studies confirmed Lake Source Cooling's impact on Cayuga Lake.

Various elected officials recently revealed that a fatally flawed draft TMDL for Cayuga Lake COULD BE ADOPTED ANY DAY. It is reportedly an inadequately funded hodge-podge of voluntary efforts and endless studies that offers no meaningful way to end Cayuga Lake's problems and likely allows Cornell and other polluters to avoid their clean up responsibilities.

This bogus plan must be killed. In 2019, Cayuga Lake experienced more Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) than any other waterbody in New York according to State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) data. We must make sure that the TMDL adopted for Cayuga Lake will fully resolve this beleaguered waterbody's pollution problems once and for all. That is why I implore activists battling HABs and other water pollution hazards to assist our campaign to clean up Cayuga Lake.

Take Urgent Action Today

1. Join more than 1,400 signatories to our: Coalition Letter Which Requests That Governor Cuomo Take Urgent Action to Eliminate Water Quality Impairments That Cause Cyanobacteria Harmful Algal Blooms Across New York State

2. Call and write key decision makers to hold them accountable:

EPA Region 2 Administrator Peter Lopez (212 637-5000),

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (518 474 8390), Governor Contact Form | Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Cornell President Martha E. Pollack (607 255 5201),

Simply repeat after me. Copy and paste. Expound to your heat's content. CC me:

My name is ___ and I live at ___. I am contacting you because ___.

a) I request that a Total Maximum Daily Load (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) I request that Cornell's Lake Source Cooling discharge pipe 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) I request that the Cayuga Lake TMDL 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 cleaned up on a comprehensive basis. Shorelines and tributaries must be assessed on a top-priority basis.


In 1998, Toxics Targeting learned that Cornell University's Lake Source Cooling's massive untreated effluent discharge containing Soluble Reactive Phosphorus violated the U.S. Clean Water Act and had been improperly permitted.

Thank you Natural Resource Defense Council for your legal analysis. See: NRDC Cornell Lake Source Cooling Permit Letter

Our fledgling efforts to protect Cayuga Lake, however, were crushed by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and Cornell University. After this travesty received national attention in The New York Times, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attempted to enforce the Clean Water Act, but was also battered into submission.

See: U. S. EPA's Failed 7/99 Landmark Lake Source Cooling/Cayuga Lake Clean Up Proposal

Fortunately, Andrew Revkin's reporting in the newspaper of record proves that activists were right about Lake Source Cooling's devastating threat to Cayuga Lake:

"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, one of the fjordlike Finger Lakes created where glaciers scratched across New York during the last ice age."

See: Aid to Environment, Or Threat to Lake?; Cornell Pursues Pumping Plan, But Critics Fear Fouled Water - 3-27-1999

That is exactly what happened. Soluble Reactive Phosphorus discharged by Lake Source Cooling can cause HABs. During the last 20 years, water quality deteriorated in Cayuga Lake as Lake Source Cooling dumped more and more Soluble Reactive Phosphorus into that impaired waterbody. In recent years, unprecedented HABs occurred in the vicinity of the Lake Source Cooling discharge.

Why Urgent Action is Needed NOW

Cornell's Lake Source Cooling untreated effluent discharge contributes approximately six percent of all the phosphorus that enters southern Cayuga Lake. Cornell's own regulatory compliance data and Before-After-Control-Impact study document that algal problems greatly intensified after Lake Source Cooling began operation. 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

and Letter to Gov. Cuomo requesting that he take immediate action to eliminate massive water quality impairments in Southern Cayuga Lake - 5-23-2012


The battle to clean up Cayuga Lake brings Toxics Targeting's full-circle to our first public policy advocacy campaign. We have come far in 20 years, but we have a huge fight on our hands because neither New York State nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is inclined to enforce public health and environmental protection laws or they would have done so years ago. There can be no dispute about that grim reality.

I recently learned that an unacceptably feeble TMDL was announced for Honeoye Lake that is surely doomed to fail. This is precisely the voluntary, endless consultant study, inadequately funded pie-in-the-sky effort that we must avoid for Cayuga Lake and all other impaired waters plagued with HABs.

See: Total Maximum Daily Load for Total Phosphorus - Honeoye Lake, Ontario County, NY

Please note that our TMDL fight is coinciding with on-going efforts to end Cargill salt mining under Cayuga Lake and remediate Legacy Toxic Sites that contaminate the lake. I believe all these intense organizing, media outreach and advocacy efforts will generate important synergistic benefits that will help us prevail.

In conclusion, activists must fight hard and well or Cayuga Lake will continue to suffer water quality impairments for decades to come and might never recover. Our goal is to require state and federal authorities to implement our comprehensive plan of action and provide an effective watershed clean up model that could be replicated nationwide.

That is precisely what EPA had in mind in 1999 when it formulated its original Cayuga Lake Clean Up Plan. That is what we now aim to achieve. Better late than never.

Thanks for your assistance. Smile and dial. Go hard.

Onward and upward,