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About the Watershed

An excerpt from State of the Owasco Lake Watershed (2000).

Owasco Lake, located centrally in Cayuga County, New York is among the smallest of the Finger Lakes. Owasco Lake is in the central part of the Oswego River Basin, between Cayuga and Skaneateles Lakes, just south of the city of Auburn. It has a mean elevation of 712 feet above sea level, a length of 10.7 miles, an average width of 1.2 miles, and a maximum depth of 177 feet.riverboat

The water from Owasco Lake is used for human consumption and irrigation. The city of Auburn, the town of Owasco, and lakefront property owners all draw water from the lake. In fact, more than 70% of Cayuga County’s population obtain their drinking water from the lake. The Owasco Lake Watershed (hereafter referred to as the watershed), or area of land that serves as the drainage basin for the lake, is 205 square miles. The topography of the lake and watershed area reflects glacial origins with hilly deposits and glacially carved depressions.

Although Owasco Lake is one of the smallest Finger Lakes, its watershed ranks third of all the Finger Lakes. The watershed is comprised of all or portions of ten towns in Cayuga County (81.5% of the land area), one town in Onondaga County (2.3%) and three towns in Tompkins County (16.2%). Major tributaries of the watershed include the Owasco Inlet, Dutch Hollow Brook, Veness Brook, and Sucker Brook.

Additionally, there are over fifty small and intermittent streams that flow into the lake. Many of these streams are less than a mile long. The Inlet accounts for nearly 55% of all surface water entering the lake; Dutch Hollow Brook accounts for 20%; Veness and Sucker Brook account for 15%; and the other minor tributaries account for 10%.

Surface runoff into the lake is 0.47 meters/year. Ground water recharges the lake through bedrock, which is primarily shale, siltstone, and sandstone, as well as through unconsolidated glacial deposits. The long-term water retention time for the lake is approximately three years.

Generally, soils within the watershed are glacially formed and deposited; deep, well drained, gently to moderately sloping, and of medium texture. The most dominant soils are calcareous (containing significant amounts of calcium) limestone, shale, and sandstone. The most common soil associations in the drumlins (large, hilly glacial deposits) are the Ontario series, which contain high amounts of sandstone and limestone.

Approximately 41% of the watershed is forested, including: mixed forest (38.5%), evergreen forest (2.1%), and shrub and brush rangeland (0.6%).