It all started with the lake. Onondaga Lake is located along the northern side of the City of Syracuse. The lake covers an area of 4.6 square miles and receives water from a drainage basin of 248 square miles located almost entirely within Onondaga County.
Onondaga Lake is an important natural resource for the residents of New York State. It supports fish and wildlife populations, has spiritual and cultural value for the Haudenosaunee, and provides recreational opportunities for many. Restoration of the lake ensures these values and uses are fully realized.
However, a long history of domestic and industrial pollution has led to serious water quality problems that have altered Onondaga Lake's natural system and peoples’ use and enjoyment of the lake. Due to complexity of the Onondaga Lake system and continued impacts from current and past municipal and industrial pollutant discharges, a comprehensive and coordinated approach to the goal of reclamation was required.
Enter Congress. In 1990 the US Congress, led by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, created the Onondaga Lake Management Conference (OLMC) and charged it with the following responsibilities:
(1) development of a comprehensive restoration, conservation and management plan for Onondaga Lake that recommends priority corrective actions and compliance schedules for the cleanup of Onondaga Lake;
(2) coordination of the implementation of this plan by the Army Corps of Engineers, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the State of New York, and local agencies, governments, and other groups participating in such management conference.
The Onondaga Lake Cleanup Corporation (OLCC) was formed as a not-for-profit organization to administer the OLMC. The OLCC entered into contract with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) on August 10, 1990 to carry out the projects and programs of the OLMC. The completion of the Onondaga Lake Management Plan in 1993 represented fulfillment of the OLMC's prime responsibility to detail a plan of action for restoring the ecological health and recreational uses of Onondaga Lake.
From May 1, 1990 through September 30, 2001, the OLCC managed the day-to-day activities related to projects authorized for funding by the OLMC, consistent with its contract with the NYSDEC. From 1990 to 1995, Congress appropriated Onondaga Lake Continuing Clean Water Improvement monies to the USEPA to support the activities of the OLMC. The USEPA funded the OLMC’s programs and projects via a grant to the NYSDEC. The NYSDEC, in turn, funded the OLCC for administering OLMC programs and projects.
Then in August 1999, the Onondaga Lake Partnership (OLP) was created through an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), sponsored by Congressman James T. Walsh. The OLP replaced the OLMC on August 17, 2000. The OLMC was granted a one-year sunset period, by the WRDA, to close out and complete outstanding OLMC projects. This time-frame was also used to organize the partnership. The Onondaga Lake Partnership is comprised of the same federal, state and local government representatives as the OLMC and undertakes projects focused on the lake and its watershed to restore and conserve its water quality, natural resources and recreational opportunities.
Since August 2001, the OLCC has operated as an independent not-for-profit institution dedicated to public education, scientific research, and remediation of Onondaga Lake and its surrounding lands. Its funding largely stems from USEPA grants. In August 2006, the OLCC changed its name to the Onondaga Environmental Institute (OEI), and in December 2006, OEI expanded its mission beyond Onondaga Lake. OEI seeks to advance environmental research, education, planning and restoration in Central New York.