Landscaping for water quality in the Finger Lakes

skananeatles lake shoreline with visible algal bloom

Photo 1: Skaneateles, NY - The water along the shoreline that resembles green pea soup, was the first confirmed Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) on Skaneateles Lake. September, 2017. Photo by Nigel Moll.

Skaneateles Lake is a vital shared natural resource for the community- providing recreational, aesthetic, financial value in addition to serving as the primary drinking water source for residents in the watershed and the City of Syracuse. Water quality issues like toxic harmful algal blooms are threatening the health of the lake and what it provides for the community.

To connect watershed residents to information and resources on how to make decisions on their property that reduce the amount of harmful surface water runoff that leaves their property and enters Skaneateles Lake, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County recently held an informational forum on Landscaping for Water Quality in Skaneateles.

Through presentations from experts in the field, take home educational guides, CCE connected watershed residents with the information, tools, and resources needed to help reduce the negative impacts from storm-water runoff that leaves their properties to protect water quality in their community. Because non-point source pollution and nutrient loading from surface water runoff are major contributors to water quality issues, increasing riparian buffers, planting more vegetation, reducing fertilizer application, and other decisions we make on our landscapes can help protect water quality in the watershed.

skananeatles lake shoreline with visible algal bloom

Photo 2: Planting ferns and shrubs - Engaging community members through volunteer-based planting events is a great way to encourage property owners to plant more vegetation on their landscapes while adding bigger, better riparian buffers to our watershed. Here, volunteers expand upon what they learned at the Landscaping for Water Quality event while working with CCE Onondaga educators to plant an array of native trees, shrubs, ferns, and perennials. Photo by Shannon Fabiani

More than 200 watershed residents, municipal officials, and watershed stakeholders attended the event and learned ways to make smarter decisions on the landscape to protect water quality, which was held in partnership with the Skaneateles Lake Association and the Town of Skaneateles. Every attendee left with the CCE publication ‘Landscaping for Water Quality’- an easy to use guide for residents to implement the information they learned at the event on their property.

To expand our reach to engage the entire watershed community, Skaneateles High School students were recruited to assist during the event. This connected them to opportunity to learn about the topic, gain volunteer experience related to protecting their watershed, and network with agency staff and professionals in the environmental and public service fields. 

Local nurseries who have many of the plant species recommended during event were present with materials and contact information to encourage attendees to take the next step and add plantings to their properties.

CCE Onondaga programming in the Skaneateles Watershed is funded by the City of Syracuse Water Department. Presenters included SUNY ESF Distinguished Professor Dr. Donald Leopold, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Watershed Coordinator Aimee Clinkhammer, and Environmental Engineer Matthew Biondollilo.

Shannon Fabiani is a water and ecology specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County. She can be reached at:

Photo by Nigel Moll