Over 12.5 million people live in the Lake Erie watershed!
Lake Erie is the southernmost of the five Great Lakes and is also the smallest by volume and 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 surface 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 12.5 million residents. The Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed in New York State, as outlined below, has more than 1,193,000 people living in it.
A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that drains on the land (stormwater and surface water) 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 above. 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 major 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, nutrients, etc.) affecting their respective communities and ultimately Lake Erie. LEWPA was formed with an intermunicipal agreement between Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie counties as a membership of stakeholders 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.
What are some of the water quality issues?
Many of our everyday activities can negatively impact water quality. These actions, such as applying chemicals to the lawn, not picking up pet waste, or not maintaining your septic system, can cause pollutants to wash into our waterways. These are often referred to as non-point source pollution. You can help be a part of the solution though! Tips are below.
Do not rake your leaves into the street, stormwater ditches, or waterways. If your municipality offers curbside collection, keep leaves on the grass. Leaves contain phosphorus and sometimes bacteria from pet waste. When it rains, they are carried down the ditches or down the street to storm drains (catch basins) that may lead directly to our waterways. They can also clog the storm drains and cause localized flooding. Make sure to manage your yard waste responsibly. Consider starting a compost pile in your yard to recycle your leaves and create beneficial soil for your garden.
Outreach and Education Materials
To find out more about the Lake Erie watershed and what you can do to help protect water quality, check out the following resources:
- LEWPA Brochure
- Managing Yard Waste Brochure
- Healthy Lawns
- Establishing and Preserving Riparian Buffers
- 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
- Plastic Pollution: Say No to Single-Use Plastics 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 web page on the Lake Erie Watershed Municipal Survey Report. You can also learn more about our history in the LEWPA Newsletter.
Current LEWPA Activities
LEWPA was awarded funding from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through the Environmental Protection Fund to implement water quality improvement and protection projects in the watershed, conduct watershed planning, and establish a water quality monitoring program. During this first year of funding through the EPF (FY16), all three counties have instituted hydro-seeding initiatives to provide soil stabilization to prevent sediment from entering waterways. The Annual Report handout can be downloaded here. Numerous projects were completed in each county including:
- Boat stewards at Dunkirk Harbor to educate on proper boat washing techniques to reduce the spread of invasive species;
- Five streambank stabilization projects in Chautauqua County;
- A wetland feasibility study for Wright Park Beach West;
- A Quality Assurance Project Plan for sampling for E. coli at 19 locations throughout the watershed;
- Eradicating invasive species at Crooked Brook and Spring Brook Fen;
- Four road slope and ditch stabilization projects in Cattaraugus County to reduce erosion to tributaries to Lake Erie;
- Technical assistance to determine the feasibility of switching from septic to sewer in a portion of Yorkshire;
- Streambank and bed stabilization to a tributary to a trout stream in Erie County;
- Green infrastructure feasibility study to provide surface water treatment at Hamburg Town Park Beach; and
- Installing green infrastructure to protect a native trout stream in Springville.
LEWPA participates in statewide Great Lakes Action Agenda efforts, as well as bi-national Great Lakes efforts in order to create a cohesive approach to water quality issues and ensure efficient use of resources. A Watershed Management Planning endeavor funded by the NYS Department of State was recently completed in partnership with Erie County and Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper (formerly 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:
Brian Davis - (716) 350-4008
|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
Other Web Resources:
NY Great Lakes Clearinghouse website offers links to statewide information on water quality, etc.
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 Waterkeeper (formerly 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.
Last updated: February 7, 2020 10:26am