This week, when many of us will gather with friends and family along the lakeshores of our district to celebrate the Fourth of July, is the perfect moment to remember the words of our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt:
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children.”
From Lake Erie to the Finger Lakes, water connects and sustains our district. But our changing climate and extreme weather has put the lakes and waterways that feed our tourism industry at risk.
Kayakers on Cayuga Lake (Photo: Paul Cooper)
Our lakes and rivers are the backbone of the tourism industry in the NY-23, providing a huge boost to our local economy in the form of tourism revenue, jobs, and taxes. According to a recent report, 4.86 million people visited the Finger Lakes for leisure-related activities in 2018, spending an impressive $2.4 billion (source).
Extreme Weather and Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs)
One of the biggest threats to the health of our lakes—and to the vitality of our tourism industry—is uncontrolled growth of harmful algae. Thriving in warm water with abundant nutrients, these algae can bloom into a slimy, iridescent, blue-green film known as harmful algae blooms (HABs). These HABs can contain dangerous toxins capable of causing serious health problems in humans and animals.
The presence of HABs in our lakes is due in part to increased runoff caused by extreme weather events like heavy rain. With intensive rain, nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen are washed from the landscape into our lakes, where Cyanobacteria feed on them and bloom into HABs (Source & Source).
Local farmers and environmental groups are working together across our district to adapt to our changing climates and to develop solutions to protect our lakes and waterways. Some of these solutions include:
Cover crops: farmers plant barley and clover in fallow fields to help the ground absorb nutrients and reduce erosion. (Source)
Buffer strips: planted between fields and streams function as runoff barriers (Source).
Lake Monitoring Programs: Volunteers are trained to monitor lake conditions and collect samples for testing.
A promising study by Cornell scientists and dairy farmers in Tioga County recently demonstrated that farmers play a valuable role in reducing nutrient runoff into our lakes. By reducing the protein in feed farmers can save between $147 and $157 per cow annually while simultaneously reducing nitrogen output in manure.
For a small family farm with 50 cows that could mean an extra $7,850 in annual income—plus a reduction in nitrogen runoff in the lakes!
“I call it a win-win. The dairy farmers win because the cow is more efficient and more profitable. Society wins because we’re now putting fewer nutrients back into the environment or into the water than we would have had we not made the adjustments,” said Larry Chase, a co-author of the study (Source).
What a wonderful way to put Teddy Roosevelt’s words into action! This week, as we all gather to celebrate the 4th of July, let’s take some time to “cherish these natural wonders” that make our district so special.