A mini Flashback – Onandaga Lake
I have a trip coming up where I’ll be spending a night in Syracuse New York. Before carrying on to my next destination I’m planning on taking my dog for a walk at a nearby park which happens to be along the shore of Onandaga Lake.
As a teenager, I rowed for St. Catharines Rowing Club. We generally were among the more competitive teams during that time periods (evidence: the dozens of people who graduated from the program who went to college on full rowing scholarships). A fair bit of our summers were spent travelling to races near and semi-far.
One of the summer championships was held in Syracuse, New York on lake Onandaga. I don’t remember how we placed in all the events. I know we came second in the eights because it was one of the greatest disappointments in my young life. But I don’t remember how we did in the fours or if I raced a pair or a double.
What I do remember is the dire warnings. “This is the most polluted lake in America”. “The bottom of this lake is covered in goo, do not touch the bottom.” “Don’t splash me, I don’t want a rash”.
To this day, nearly 20 years later, I’m still convinced that Onandaga Lake is a horribly polluted lake. In preparation for going back there, I did a few google searches that confirmed that:
- Onandaga lake is still considered terribly polluted.
- In the early 1900s ice harvest from the lake was banned. Swimming was banned in the 1940s.
- The lake was polluted by sewage wastewater (20% of the lake’s inflow is now treated wastewater – the highest in the US) and by chemical pollution (Mercury contamination is a problem)
- Cleanup efforts since 2012 have actually been dredging polluted lake bottom sediment out of the lake. Although 85% of the lake bottom will be untouched, efforts are being made.
So based on my research: Yep back in the late 1990s, the warnings were accurate. As for now, it’s probably safe enough to walk my dog along the shoreline, but I probably still wouldn’t want to flip a boat there.
Let’s hope that if my kids row in high school (>10 years from now) I won’t feel that way.