Centuries ago, the Peacemaker brought the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk Nations together on the shores of Onondaga Lake. At the lakeshore, these warring nations accepted the message of peace, laid down their arms, and formed the Haudenosaunee Confederacy – the first representative democracy in the West. The lake became a sacred place, one that must be cared for and respected.
The Onondagas were good stewards of the Lake until New York, in defiance of federal law, took control of the lake and its surrounding areas.
ISSUES FACING ONONDAGA LAKE
Ammonia and phosphorus are the most prevalent nutrients in the lake, and they appear in such high levels because of human waste that was dumped into Onondaga Lake with little or no treatment. Excessive amounts of these nutrients lead to algae growth in the lake. These algal blooms used mass quantities of oxygen choking out fish and plants, especially in the deeper portions of the lake. Without oxygen in these parts of the lake, cold-water fish cannot survive. Thanks to recent upgrades at Metro fewer nutrients are pouring into the lake and there has been an improvement in water quality and an increase in fish populations.
Every day, about one-half ton of clay and silt flows down Onondaga Creek and dumps into the lake. These sediments come from the Tully Valley mudboils. Mudboils are naturally occurring releases for groundwater pressure that is built up by the unique geology of the Tully valley. However, decades of mining by predecessors of Honeywell Int. have significantly increased sediment loading into the lake.
Methyl mercury, the mercury found in aquatic systems, is among the most poisonous chemicals known. Mercury has been measured in fish from Onondaga lake at levels that far surpass federal and state standards. 165,000 lbs of mercury was discharged into Onondaga Lake by Allied Chemical (Honeywell’s predecessor). Scientists estimate that 7 million cubic yards of lake-bottom sediments are contaminated as a result.
Phosphorus and Ammonia
Onondaga Lake as a Superfund Site