Once Considered ‘Dead’, Upstate New York Lake Comes To Life
Back in the late 1980's, I went out to visit some college friends that lived near Syracuse. As we drove around, I saw this beautiful body of water. Being summertime, I suggested that we should go swimming. The car load of friends broke into laughter. "The lake's dead!" one friend exclaimed. "And you'll be if you swim it." Looking at the polluted, lifeless body of water was like a punch in the stomach. People that lived around the lake dealt with that feeling everyday, until now.
Onondaga Lake is making a comeback. After three decades of court battles and over $1.5 billion of cleanup efforts, the five-square-mile body of water may once again allow swimming for the first times in over 70-years. Glen Coin of syracuse.com wrote a great piece on the lake's resurgence.
“The lake was a cesspool,” Charley Driscoll told syracuse.com. “It was horrible. Every time the wind would blow, you could smell the sulfide coming up from the sediments.” Driscoll and his friends hung out near Onondaga Lake in the 1960s and 1970s. Coin reported that at the time over 160,000 pounds of Honeywell produced mercury laid a the bottom of the lake, mixing with the water and wildlife.
Things have changed better. For one, Onondaga County's Metro wastewater was one of the major polluters, in addition to Honeywell and other industrial polluters. Adding modern technology to the wastewater plant had an immediate impact on improving water quality. In addition, after dredging tons of toxic waste from the sediment at the bottom of the lake, a "homegrown technology" developed specifically for this project helped drastically cut mercury levels by 95% in the water.
Wildlife is once again beginning to flourish in the water and on the shorelines of Onondaga Lake. National fishing tournaments now include the Syracuse suburb lake for competitions. Bald eagles patrol the skies, while a 9-mile bike trail provides hundreds of residents each day with a scenic recreation area. This is a tremendous example of a lot of hard work and persistent effort to help restore an area asset.