The Tragic Tale Of Upstate New York’s Most Polluted Lake
Nestled in the heart of Upstate New York lies a cautionary tale of human impact on the environment.
Onondaga Lake, a once-pristine body of water located just outside of Syracuse, for quite some time has been called one of the most polluted lakes in not only Upstate New York but in North America - however, things are turning around for the lake.
Onondaga Lake holds a very special and significant cultural and spiritual importance for the Onondaga Nation, making it considered sacred within their indigenous territory. The lake has been a central part of their ancestral territory, and they have acted as good stewards, caring for and respecting the lake for generations.
However, the sacred nature of Onondaga Lake was deeply impacted beginning when control of the lake was taken from the Onondaga people by the state of New York following the American Revolutionary War. Treaties were broken and pollution from industries turned polluted lakes in the United States and some would say, even the world.
Over the years, the lake faced the consequences of raw and partially treated sewage disposal, industrial waste dumping, and runoff from nearby mining and agricultural practices. Between 1946 and 1970, an estimated 165,000 pounds of mercury was disposed of into Onondaga Lake by a chemical and dye corporation.
The pollution of the lake meant that its ecosystem was severely disrupted leading to a decline in biodiversity as well as the presence of harmful algal blooms. The harmful algal blooms not only disrupted the balance of aquatic life but also made certain areas of the lake unsafe for swimming, fishing, and recreational activities.
Despite the pollution and challenges, the Onondaga Nation continued (and still does) to advocate for the restoration and protection of the lake, and local authorities, environmental organizations, and citizens realized that something needed to be done to restore and revitalize the lake.
Cleanup efforts have resulted in drastic improvements in water quality and the resurgence of certain species but there is still work to be done for this lake to fully return to its once pristine condition.