A clean lake reflects well on all of us.


Legal Foundation for Onondaga Lake Cleanup

Summary: Onondaga Lake Management Plan

The Onondaga Lake Management Plan specifies actions to restore the ecological health and recreational uses of Onondaga Lake.

Onondaga Lake Management Conference

Due to the complexity of the Onondaga Lake system and the continued effect of numerous pollutants, a comprehensive and coordinated approach to the goal of reclamation was required. In response, the U.S. Congress created the Onondaga Lake Management Conference (the predecessor to the Onondaga Lake Partnership) in 1990 (Public Law 101-596, section 401) and charged it to:

(1) Develop a comprehensive revitalization, conservation, and management plan for Onondaga Lake that recommends priority corrective actions and compliance schedules for the cleanup of Onondaga Lake; and

(2) Coordinate the implementation of the plan by the State of New York, the Army Corps of Engineers, USEPA, and all local agencies, governments, and other groups participating in such management conference.

The Plan

The completion of the Onondaga Lake Management Plan represented the fulfillment of the Onondaga Lake Management Conference's prime responsibility. The Plan was intended to be dynamic, to spur action, and to support the Onondaga Lake Management Conference's second responsibility; the coordination of implementation of the recommendations contained in the Plan.

The Onondaga Lake Management Plan contains specific recommendations designed to lead to a cleaner Lake and increased use by the public. Where possible, each recommendation identifies the party that should undertake the effort and provides an estimate of the time frame within which it should be completed.

At the time the Plan was written, it was understood that the problems of Onondaga Lake are extremely complex and their solution would be influenced by a variety of technical, legal, social, and political factors that are in many cases external to the Onondaga Lake Management Conference. As a result, although members of the Conference were confident that Lake revitalization could be accomplished and must be done as rapidly as possible, accurate specification of target time frames for all the recommendations in the Plan was not possible at the time the Plan was developed.

Management Plan and Amended Consent Judgment Relationship

The approval and implementation of the Amended Consent Judgment (ACJ) was consistent with and supportive of the purposes of the Onondaga Lake Management Conference. On September 9, 1999, the Onondaga Lake Management Conference, through Resolution 99-1, approved and endorsed the ACJ and incorporated it into and made it part of its 1993 "A Plan of Action." It was further resolved that any portion of the 1993 Plan that was not consistent with the ACJ was to be removed and deleted.

Amended Consent Judgment

The Onondaga Lake Amended Consent Judgment (ACJ) was signed in January 1998, and stems from a 1989 Judgment on Consent settling litigation between the State of New York, the Atlantic States Legal Foundation (ASLF) and Onondaga County in connection with alleged violations of state and federal water pollution control laws. The conditions of the Judgment on Consent required the County to perform a series of engineering and scientific studies to evaluate the need for upgrading the Metropolitan Sewage Treatment Plant (Metro) and for providing treatment of the combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that occur in the Metro service area.

The Municipal Compliance Plan

Based on the results of those studies and in consultation with NYSDEC and USEPA, the County developed a plan for upgrading the Metro plant and addressing the CSOs. The County submitted the proposed Municipal Compliance Plan (MCP) to the State and ASLF on January 11, 1996.

Following submission of the MCP, there were numerous discussions and negotiations with regard to the proposed MCP. The result was the execution of the ACJ, which was signed in January 1998 by all the parties—NYSDEC, the State Attorney General, ASLF and the County. The provisions of the ACJ resolve a number of controversies that grew from the 1989 Consent Decree, and the ACJ takes the place of what historically has been referred to as the "Municipal Compliance Plan."

The ACJ reflects, to a large extent, the objectives established by a policy resolution passed by the County Legislature in 1995 (Resolution 95-158) that was intended to guide negotiators in developing the Municipal Compliance Plan. The principles outlined in the policy resolution called for a plan based on the "phased implementation" of the various upgrades to Metro and the CSOs, and the measurement of water quality improvements to the lake resulting from each phase of construction.

ACJ Projects

The ACJ is designed to improve the water quality of Onondaga Lake and achieve full compliance with state and federal water quality regulations by December 1, 2012. The ACJ specifically includes a listing of more than thirty projects to be undertaken over a 15-year timeframe. The ACJ describes the intent of each project and sets time schedules for specific work related to each project to be completed (minor and major milestones). These milestones relate to such activities as completion of environmental review, start of construction and commencement of operation.

The ACJ projects can be divided into three main categories:

Wastewater treatment
Improvements and upgrades to the County's main sewage treatment plant—Metro
Collection system
Elimination and/or reduction of the effects of the CSOs on the lake and its tributaries
Lake and tributary monitoring
Evaluate the effects of the improvement projects on the water quality of the lake and tributary streams.

ACJ-Management Plan Relationship

On September 9, 1999, the Onondaga Lake Management Conference approved and endorsed the ACJ and incorporated it into and made it part of its 1993 "A Plan of Action," the Onondaga Lake Management Plan. It was further resolved that any portion of the 1993 Plan that was not consistent with the ACJ was to be deleted.