Twelve million people live in the Lake Erie watershed!
Lake Erie is the southernmost of the five Great Lakes and is also the shallowest, with an average depth of only 62 feet. This makes it the warmest and most biologically active of the Great Lakes and has allowed for a booming commercial fishing industry, as well as many other industries and recreational opportunities. Because it is part of the largest freshwater resource in the world, Lake Erie's watershed is densely populated, extensively farmed, and highly industrialized. With drainage from Ontario, Canada and the states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, Lake Erie is impacted by the activities of approximately 12 million residents.
What is a watershed?
A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that drains on the land (stormwater) or below the land (groundwater) empties to a particular body of water. Watersheds can be large or small and smaller areas are often called sub-watersheds or sub-basins. The Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance (LEWPA) represents the portion of New York State that drains to Lake Erie and the Niagara River. It is outlined in the map to the right. There are 18 sub-watersheds.
It is critical that the watersheds draining to Lake Erie and Niagara River are managed effectively!
How did LEWPA form?
A flood event in August of 2009 initiated the response of municipal officials in three counties around Cattaraugus Creek to lead a grassroots effort to proactively manage their local watersheds, all of which drain to Lake Erie. The storm event highlighted localized flooding problems, excessive debris accumulation in area streams, and overall non-point source pollution issues (such as sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, auto fluids, bacteria, etc.) affecting their respective communities and ultimately Lake Erie. The Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance was formed with Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie counties as a membership of stakeholders intending to address water quality issues affecting the New York portion of the Lake Erie watershed and its shoreline. You can find out more about LEWPA and how they work with other organizations by reading this blog article from Lake Erie Forum.
The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, in collaboration with the Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, is continuing a community-based watershed management planning effort. You can learn more about the project on the Watershed Management Plan webpage.
Why is it important to address these issues?
Many issues affect whether or not you can drink the water or enjoy the beaches along Lake Erie. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) caused by increased nutrients in the Lake can shut down drinking water facilities. Therefore, stormwater runoff needs to be controlled. Never over-fertilize your lawn and always sweep up excess fertilizer that falls on driveways and sidewalks.
Plastic microbeads can soak up toxins and have been found in fish in Lake Erie. These toxins can potentially move up the food web to wildlife and humans. Consider switching brands if your body wash, face wash, or toothpaste includes plastic microbeads such as polyethylene or polypropylene.
What else can you do?
To find out more about the Lake Erie watershed and what you can do to help protect water quality, download the following resources or visit our "What is a Watershed" page.
- LEWPA Brochure
- Managing Yard Waste Brochure
- Your Septic System: How It Functions and How to Care for It Brochure
- Go Green in the Great Lakes: Land Care and Pest Management Practices DEC Brochure
What does LEWPA do?
The mission of the Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance is to foster collaboration and partnerships within the watershed to address regional water quality and quantity concerns and in doing so, protect and enhance our Lake Erie resource. The mission will be furthered through the implementation of the following objectives:
- Support existing federal and state Lake Erie restoration initiatives or recommendations
- Implement a watershed management approach to protecting water quality
- Leverage community assets and other support
- Reduce point source and non-point source water pollution
- Protect and enhance swimming, fishing, and other recreational activities
- Reduce the impacts and costs of flooding
- Conserve, protect, and restore natural habitat
- Identify, prioritize, and quantify specific problems and their solutions in support of the mission
- Build community stewardship through education and outreach to improve community awareness of the value and importance of Lake Erie and to increase community involvement in preserving the lake as a resource
- Address failing and outdated municipal infrastructure needs
LEWPA completed the first Lake Erie Watershed Municipal Survey in 2013. To find out more, visit our webpage on the Lake Erie Watershed Municipal Survey Report. You can also learn more about our history in the LEWPA Newsletter.
What is LEWPA working on?
LEWPA participates in statewide Great Lakes Action Agenda efforts, as well as binational Great Lakes efforts in order to create a cohesive approach to water quality issues and ensure efficient use of resources. LEWPA has also utilized Scott Naturals funding to plant trees and shrubs along stream banks and to improve habitat in 5 locations throughout the watershed. A Watershed Management Planning endeavor is currently underway to make the region more eligible for water quality project implementation funds in partnership with Erie County and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
The LEWPA Water Resource Board includes members from Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie counties and meets quarterly (February, May, August, November) to discuss water-related issues.
For more information, contact your county's Soil and Water Conservation District:
Cattaraugus County: Brian Davis - (716) 699-2326
8 Martha Street, PO Box 1765
Ellicottville, NY 14731
Chautauqua County: Dave Spann - (716) 664-2351
3542 Turner Road
Jamestown, NY 14701
Erie County: Mark Gaston - (716) 652-8480
50 Commerce Way
East Aurora, NY 14052
Great Lakes Information Network offers news and information about Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes.
The Lake Erie Forum links to the Lakewide Management Plan and offers a one-stop shop for Lake Erie information.
Find out about fishing resources along Lake Erie and the Niagara River.
Check out our Invasive Species webpage for more information on these threats.
Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER is working to clean-up water quality in the Niagara River watershed.
The WNY Stormwater Coalition is helping to reduce stormwater pollution in Erie and Niagara counties.