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Steve Gladding Bureau of Water Resource Managemnt New York State Depatment of Environmental Conservation 4th Floor 625 Broadway, Albany NY 12233-3508, firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Gladding, This letter is submitted in response to the request for Public Comments for the “Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Phosphorus in Onondaga Lake”, a report prepared by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, March 2012. The report’s conclusions should be rejected for the following reasons; 1. Onondaga Lake’s water quality classification is outdated and incorrect, 2. Brown Trout are a common species in Onondaga Lake, 3. The TMDL phosphorus should be set at levels consistent with similar, nearby lakes with trout populations. Onondaga Lake’s water quality classification is outdated and incorrect. Onondaga Lake’s water quality as Class B and Class C water should be listed correctly as Class B(T) and Class C(T), indicating it as a trout water in accordance with New York State Regulations 6 NYCRR §180.5, 6 NYCRR § 700.1, and New York State Environmental Conservation Law §11-0103. The report clarifies the regulations and law accordingly; “NYS Regulations (6 NYCRR §180.5) define the terms "trout waters, trout streams, trout ponds and trout lakes" as those waters, streams, ponds and lakes inhabited (as defined by § 11-0103 of the Environmental Conservation Law) by trout. The NYS Environmental Conservation Law §11-0103 defines the term "inhabited" as permanent occupancy by a species as contrasted with a temporary presence of an occasional individual. NYS Regulations (6 NYCRR § 700.1) define the term trout as “any fish in the following genera: Coregonus, Oncorhynchus, Prosopium, Salmo, Salvelinus, and Thymallus”. Waters, streams, ponds and lakes for which a standard (T) or (TS) is designated are trout waters or trout spawning waters, respectively. NYS Regulations (6 NYCRR § 700.1) defines trout waters as “waters that provide habitat in which trout can survive and grow within a normal range on a year-round basis, or on a year-round basis excepting periods of time during which almost all of the trout inhabiting such waters could and would temporarily retreat into and survive in adjoining or tributary waters due to natural circumstances.” NYS Regulations (6 NYCRR § 700.1) defines trout spawning waters as “trout waters in which trout eggs can be deposited and be fertilized by trout inhabiting such waters (or connecting waters) and in which those eggs can develop and hatch, and the trout hatched there from could survive and grow to a sufficient size and stage of development to enable them to either remain and grow to adult trout therein, or migrate into and survive in other trout waters.” p.23 The report determines Onondaga Lake is not a trout water by citing NYSDEC’s (inaccurate) water quality classification for it, “The classifications for Onondaga Lake of Class B and C are not at this time followed by the symbol (T) or (TS).” p.22
Omitted from this explanation is the understanding that due to a lack of resources, the NYSDEC has not performed water quality re-classifications for the vast majority of New York’s waters for the last 25 years. This is particularly important with Onondaga Lake as it has long been considered among the most polluted lakes in the country, if not the world, and is now being celebrated for a relatively recent and extremely dramatic water quality improvement that is known to support a diverse fish habitat. Instead of describing the presence and health of its trout species, it employs circular logic to describe the adverse conditions, like reduced dissolved oxygen levels and associated warm water temperature, that limit trout’s successconditions present in Onondaga Lake that are directly related to its level of phosphorus Brown Trout are a common species in Onondaga Lake Since 1998, Onondaga County, through its Water Environmental Protection Department (OCDEWP), together with the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) has closely monitored the lake’s water quality. In October, 2011, they released a report “Onondaga Lake Fishery, 2011 Fact Sheet”, which states; “The remarkable recovery of the system is exemplified by the increased numbers and wider distribution of large brown trout, which are stocked in Ninemile Creek, and now persist throughout most of the year in the lake.” http://static.ongov.net/WEP/wepdf/OnondagaLakeFishery-2011_FactSheet %20(Oct2011).pdf The Fact Sheet shows 52 fish species found in Onondaga Lake during the years of 2001-2010 and groups them by their relative abundance within three categories; Very Common, Common, and Uncommon. Brown Trout are included in the list of 17 Common species. Along with Brown Trout, another Common species listed in Onondaga Lake is Northern Pike, a species targeted by the DEC for habitat restoration by the Honeywell Corporation as part of the lake’s remediation and restoration. Rainbow Trout are listed among 20 Uncommon species. Along with Rainbow Trout, Round Gobies and Lake Sturgeon, both species receiving significant attention and research of late, and are listed among the lake’s 20 Un-common species. A TMDL Phosphorous determination must take into account that trout now inhabit Onondaga Lake, are reproducing in its system, and that the lake is supporting their growth and survival. Onondaga Lake’s TMDL for phosphorus should be set at levels consistent with similar, nearby lakes with trout populations The 2011 Fact Sheet show’s a distribution of Onondaga Lake’s cold water, cool water, and warm water species suggesting its return to a habitat profile that is supportive of a fish species distribution similar to other nearby Finger Lakes. The record of the lake’s historic coldwater fishery is also supportive of the lake’s potential to return to this profile. Reports demonstrating increased levels of dissolved oxygen and shorter periods of anoxia are consistent with the lake’s direction of return to its pre-industrial morphology. Onondaga Lake has once again become a New York State trout water only because of extensive efforts to reduce the amounts of pollution that enters it. METRO’s reduction of phosphorous loading to the lake is directly responsible for the improvement to its fish habitat and species diversity. Continued reduction of phosphorous levels for the lake will only further speed its recovery. It is also likely to provide the added benefit of improving the return of safe recreational swimming, the other best usage for B(T) Class waters. Given these facts, the NYSDEC should re-examine the evidence and reduce Onondaga Lake’s recommended TMDL for phosphorus. Yours truly, Lloyd M. Withers Onondaga Shoreline Heritage Restoration 405 Bradford Parkway Syracuse, NY