Finger Lakes - Rochester, NY area

Consider the Finger Lakes and how each affects our local environment.  The Finger Lakes themselves and the surrounding region will be dramatically affected by Climate Change.  

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Page Contents:| Listing of individual Lakes | Finger Lakes in the local Media | Resources |


Finger LakesThe Rochester area is near all eleven of the Finger Lakes.  These lakes not only make our area one of the most beautiful, they also frame the environment as one of water and wetlands and thousands of plant and wildlife conducive to this type of ecology. 

Finger Lakes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia "The Finger Lakes are a chain of lakes in the west-central section of Upstate New York that are a popular tourist destination. The lakes mainly are linear in shape, each lake oriented on a north-south axis. The two longest, Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, are among the deepest in America. Both are close to 40 miles (64 km) from end to end, but never more than 3.5 miles (5,600 m) wide. Cayuga is the longest (38.1 miles, 61.3 km), but Seneca the largest in total area. Seneca is the deepest (618 feet, 188.4 m), followed by Cayuga (435 feet, 132.6 m), with the bottoms well below sea level. These largest lakes resemble the others in shape, which collectively reminded early map-makers of the fingers of a hand. Oneida Lake is generally not considered one of the Finger Lakes, but it is sometimes called the "thumb". "


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Readying our Finger Lakes for Climate Change                                       

by Frank J. Regan

When you search scientific studies on how Climate Change will affect the Great Lakes you get quite a bit of scientific material.  These studies explain how warmer weather will increase evaporation, which will lower water levels.  Temperature sensitive fish will move to colder regions of the lakes, if there are colder regions.  Warmer waters may affect the cooling ability of nuclear power plants. Extreme weather events (lake-effect snowstorms, for example) will likely change even more radically as the change to a warmer climate further influences local weather near the waters of the Great Lakes.  Some studies, like this report Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms from the EPA, attribute more toxic Blue-Green Algae outbreaks to warmer waters, especially in the shallower Lake Erie.   

The Finger Lakes do not seem to have as much information available on how they will be affected by Climate Change, though we can probably extrapolate some from what we know about the Great Lake’s materials. For example, fish distribution might be more affected in the Finger Lakes because temperature sensitive fish have fewer choices in the shallower lakes. The NYSERDA funded Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) mentions how agriculture (especially the wine industry), tourism, invasive species, and water withdrawal around the Finger Lakes will be affected by a warmer climate, but not much about how the various lakes’ ecologies themselves will be influenced. All lakes in the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes regions will have phosphorus pollution to deal with.    

This all matters because most of our Finger Lakes’ ecologies are heavily influenced by shoreline property owners.  Of course, our various environmental authorities, like the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), control what can and cannot be done to these ecologies. But the DEC is not located at all the eleven lakes and unless something significant, like a local septic systems breach, sewer overflows, or the destruction of a wetland, catches their attention, it probably goes unattended.

We as a society have allowed most of our lakes’ waterfronts, including the Finger Lakes, to be owned by individuals and businesses that de facto control some of our most precious waterfront ecologies. While waterfront properties are very popular, they are also critical to the health of our lakes, providing a natural barrier from land to water.  Property owners are primarily responsible for what wetlands get to exist, what animals get to get to the water, what manmade chemicals get to flow into the water, and a lot more.  Thus, we have allowed a critical part of our environment to be almost entirely purchased privately and consequently controlled by individuals who are not experts on lake ecologies, nor compelled to act as such. (Note: on Hemlock Lake, waterfront property ownership was changed from private to public because it became a water source for the City of Rochester, NY.)   more...

Finger Lakes Regional Sustainability PlanFinger Lakes Regional Sustainability Plan Overview of program: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo established the Cleaner, Greener New York Program in 2011 to empower regions to create more sustainable communities by funding smart development practices. The Finger Lakes Region is partnering with public and private experts across a wide range of fields, along with community residents, to lead the development of a regional sustainability plan and to implement projects that will significantly improve the economic and environmental health of our area. This effort will guide integrated, sustainable solutions—from statewide investments to regional decision-making on land use, housing, transportation, infrastructure, energy, and environmental practices—to improve our quality of life. Six Stakeholder Groups, with approximately 500 members, were established to provide data, technical expertise and knowledge of the region to guide the development of the Plan. These groups were developed around the following NYSERDA defined focus areas, with the topics of Climate Change Adaptation, Governance and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions addressed in each Group: The study area for the Plan includes the following nine counties: 1. Genesee County 2. Livingston County 3. Monroe County 4. Ontario County 5. Orleans County 6. Seneca County 7. Wayne County 8. Wyoming County 9. Yates County



Finger Lakes in the local media

The NewsLinks below refer to NewsLinks on the collective lakes region.  For separate NewsLinks for each lake, go to the individual lakes pages--in left column.   


  • Changing Climates- An Application to the Finger Lakes Region Across the country, climate change is becoming more realized and accepted. Projected changes in temperature and precipitation are sometimes hard to believe or “feel” however there is more to this issue than meets the eye. Biologically, climate controls the distribution and organization of species, their ecosystems and the processes (like photosynthesis for example) they are involved with and depend on. The National Climate Assessment (NCA) Summary is an impressive document (and there’s more where that came from) that provides an overview of what we are up against and what scientists expect in our not-so-distant future. Some of the key outcomes of climate change projections have been focused on temperature, precipitation, sea level rise and ocean acidification. But what does that mean to us in the Finger Lakes? Since we aren’t located near the coastline, this article will focus on temperature and precipitation. (December 1, 2014) Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute [more on Climate Change and Finger Lakes in our region]
  • Regionally Speaking: Finger Lakes Issues Briefing On the morning of Saturday June 7 2014, the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance held its first (and most likely, annual) Finger Lakes Issues Briefing at the Gould Hotel in Seneca Falls. Event facilitators were Lisa Cleckner, Director of the Finger Lakes Institute and Hilary Lambert, 2014 President of the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance (FLRWA). During this two-hour event, FLRWA members and invited experts gave brief presentations on several of the water-related challenges facing our region, and engaged in a lively two-way conversation with elected officials, legislators and their aides who were able to attend. The event focused on issues of concern regarding the environmental health and economic well-being of the beautiful and unique Finger Lakes region in central New York State. Among the many issues current today, for this first briefing the speakers and topics were as follows. Speakers and topics Lisa Cleckner, Director of the Finger Lakes Institute, began the morning with a brief introduction to the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance, and explained that groups like this one, working cooperatively across the region to solve problems, will be necessary for successfully moving toward a sustainable future. She also discussed the recent flooding in several lake towns, and the need for a higher awareness and preparedness in the face of climate change.  (August 1, 2014) Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute [more on Finger Lakes and Climate Change in our area]
  • Regionally Speaking: Protecting Our Waters To offer a regional perspective, each month a member of the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance contributes an article featuring their individual lake issues, members and accomplishments. The Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance (FLRWA) represents the interests and concerns of residents around nine of New York State’s Finger Lakes, with member organizations from Honeoye, Seneca, Otisco, Canandaigua, Conesus, Keuka, Cayuga, Owasco, and Skaneateles Lakes. We are also partnered with the New York State Federation of Lake Associations, the City of Rochester’s Water and Lighting Bureau, Save Our Sodus, Cornell Cooperative Extension  of Yates County, and the Finger Lakes Institute. Our website is Origin and Purpose In 2010, nine lake and watershed organizations representing the inhabited Finger Lakes in New York State formed the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance (FLRWA). The Alliance represents over 10,000 individual property owners, residents and voters across the entire Finger Lakes region. (March 1, 2014) Happenings the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute   [more on the Finger Lakes in our area]


  • SCD Concepts: Finger Lakes Region Focused On Sustainability The Finger Lakes region is one of New York State’s top agricultural regions and features a robust tourism industry focused on the local wineries, lakes and hiking. Municipalities, local colleges and universities draw acclaim for the beauty of the environment, and the health of the Finger Lakes themselves are critical to maintaining animal and fish habitat and attracting sportsmen. Thus, there is no question that the long-term economic success of the region is intimately tied to the natural environment. With that connection in mind, a group of community leaders, municipalities and stakeholders have developed a comprehensive regional sustainability plan, as part of the Cleaner, Greener Communities program, a major statewide initiative to invest in sustainability. “Finger Lakes community leaders and stakeholders came together to develop plans that build on the region’s existing assets to create a framework for sustainable communities and an energy-efficient future,” said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “This effort will guide integrated, sustainable solutions—from statewide investments to regional decision-making—to improve the quality of life for Finger Lakes residents and to significantly improve the economic and environmental health of the State while using fewer resources.” (January 1, 2014) Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute  [more on Finger Lakes in our area]
  • Climate History From The Depths of Seneca Lake Climate change is a topic that has been highly discussed over the past decade with increased studies identifying distinct warming trends associated with human activity. However, the key to understanding the future for our earth’s climate may lie in identifying exactly how it has changed since our first negative contributions. Numerous methods exist for assessing past climates including analyzing tree rings, ice cores, fossil assemblages, and sediments. Here in the Finger Lakes, several of these methods can be employed to investigate two distinct climate histories, the Holocene (the past ~12,000 years) by analyzing lake sediments or tree cores and the Devonian (419-359 million years ago) through analysis of the limestone bedrock. Reconstruction of Holocene climate history is very valuable to our understanding of the extent which human activities are negatively impacting our environment. (December 1, 2013) Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute [more on Finger Lakes and Climate Change in our area]
  • Largest Finger Lakes don't get toxin testing Monitoring blue-green bacterial blooms an elusive task Parts of the Seneca Lake shoreline were draped at times this summer with the oddly colored water and white froth that often signal the presence of blue-green algae blooms. The blooms, which can be accompanied by potentially dangerous toxin, provoked a flood of complaints to the lake association. But Seneca Lake’s waters were never tested for algal toxin. Seneca, the largest of the 11 Finger Lakes, was never included on New York’s warning list of water bodies suffering blooms because environmental officials tried twice but weren’t able to verify that blooms had even occurred. Members of the lake association were left confused. “We issued an alert to our members and … asked them to report to the DEC. I haven’t heard anything back from anybody,” said Mary Ann Kowalski, president of the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association. (September 30, 2013) Ithaca Journal [more on Finger Lakes and Water Quality in our area]
  • Are the Finger Lakes the place to store natural gas? It's something few people think about, but all that natural gas,and other fossil fuels, being produced by hydrofracking has to be stored somewhere before it gets to the consumer. Often used for the job: underground salt caverns like the ones near Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes. Now an out of state company wants to expand storage there, a plan some local residents call risky. Our story comes from David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College. (July 10, 2013) North Coast Public Radio [more on Finger Lakes and Energy in our area]
  • Inquiry-based Learning as a Means to Exploring the Finger Lakes The Finger Lakes Institute’s (FLI’s) education program has developed a range of educational opportunities that engage teachers and students alike in scientific inquiry.  Inquiry-based learning is defined as education where, “students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world” (NRC, 1996).  Furthermore, inquiry-based learning is understood to be one of the most effective ways to teach students both scientific concepts and the process by which scientific discovery occurs (Leonard and Penick, 2009).  However, as William H. Leonard and John E. Penick discuss in their article, Is the Inquiry Real?, “in the most ideal classroom, rather than learning about inquiry, students learn through inquiry.”  Through its programs such as Science on Seneca and the Finger Lakes Regional Stream Monitoring Program, the FLI has worked to highlight and foster hands-on science for students and teachers alike.  (May 1, 2013) Happenings -the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute  [more on Finger Lakes in our area]


  • Filmmaker Expresses Biodiversity of Finger Lakes | Happenings Recognizing critical threats to the health of the Finger Lakes watershed from invasive species and energy development, underwater filmmaker David O. Brown is collaborating with scientists from the FLI to film underwater habitat and biodiversity and collect physical, chemical, and biological data. This video and water quality information will be used as baseline documentation of the watershed today, and will be used to generate media that can be given to schools and citizen science groups concerned with protecting the Finger Lakes watershed in the future.  (July 1, 2012) Happenings | the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute [more on the Finger Lakes in our area]


  • WXXI: Fight Over Proposed Clay Mine (2011-10-26) ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - A group of concerned citizens in the Finger Lakes is fighting a proposed clay mine in the area. The group says plans by Seneca Meadows Landfill to open a new 120-acre soil mine will create health, air and noise issues. Glen Silver, president of the Concerned Citizens of Seneca County, says the industrialization of the Finger Lakes is going unchecked.  (October 26, 2011) WXXI NewsRoom [more on Finger Lakes in our area]



  • Clinton seeks federal aid for Finger Lakes U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday introduced legislation that for the first time would confer federal status, federal protection and federal funding on the Finger Lakes. Her proposed Finger Lakes Initiative Act of 2002 would establish a department within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the environmental integrity and aid in development of cultural and economic resources of the 11 glacially carved lakes and surrounding communities, Clinton said during a teleconference Thursday from her Washington, D.C., office. --(October 4, 2002)
  • Democrat & Chronicle: Geneva gets Finger Lakes research center — Gouged out by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago, the 11 Finger Lakes stretch across a 75-mile-wide swath of New York state. Now, for the first time, one institute will serve as a hub of research and data about the region, which is nearly twice the size of Connecticut. (October 1, 2002) Democrat and Chronicle
  • Clinton pledges new plan for Finger Lakes U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton will introduce legislation to create an alliance to protect the environment and boost commerce. (August 31, 2002) Daily Messenger
  • Algae Leaves Bad Smell A bad smell has left a bad taste in the mouths of people living along one of the Finger Lakes. Residents say an algae problem on Honeoye Lake has been worse this year than any other in recent memory. It's closed the beach to swimmers, and left a foul odor in the air for much of the summer. (August 29, 2002)  R News: Your NewsChannel
  • Bill awaiting OK from House would ban forest drilling HECTOR - A permanent ban on oil and gas drilling in the Finger Lakes National Forest is being sought. Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton last week announced Senate adoption of a bill that will ensure the forest is forever safe from the threats posed by drilling. (August 8, 2002)  Finger Lakes Times
  • Democrat & Chronicle: Open space, rec projects in Finger Lakes get funds — WATKINS GLEN — Six open space and recreation projects, including a new nature park in Watkins Glen, Schuyler County, will divide $654,000 in state and federal funding.  (August 6, 2002) Democrat and Chronicle:
  • Wildlife toxin may hit Finger Lakes Researchers believe exotic species, such as the zebra mussel, brought botulism to the Great Lakes.
    Local biologists with the state Department of Environmental Conservation said this morning that a deadly toxin killing fish and birds in Lake Erie may eventually hit the Finger Lakes. (August 5, 2002) Daily Messenger
  • Democrat & Chronicle: Finger Lakes drilling ban tactics shift — WASHINGTON — With their bill that would permanently ban drilling in the Finger Lakes National Forest making no headway in the House, New York lawmakers are seeking a one-year extension of a temporary ban imposed last fall. Oil and gas exploration in the 15,000-acre forest would be barred through Sept. 30, 2003, under a Department of Interior spending bill that passed the House last week. That bill now heads for the Senate, where approval of the drilling ban extension is expected. (July 24, 2002) Democrat and Chronicle:
  • Democrat & Chronicle: Key senator backs ban on Finger Lakes drilling (June 19, 2002) — New York's senators, Democrats Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, have picked up crucial support for their call for a permanent ban on oil and gas drilling in the Finger Lakes National Forest. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is the leading advocate of oil and gas exploration on public lands, indicated at a Senate hearing Tuesday that he would support the New Yorkers' bill prohibiting drilling in the 16,000-acre forest, in Schuyler County north of Elmira. (June 19, 2002)
  • Democrat & Chronicle: Finger Lakes region still under drought watch — ALBANY -- The Finger Lakes region remains under a drought watch while conditions in some other regions have improved, according to members of the state drought task force. As a result of the average 5 inches of rain that fell in April, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has lifted its drought watch for 17 counties in the Adirondacks, Southern Tier and Susquehanna region. (May 9, 2002)




Finger Lakes Learning "We are a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to educating and engaging the public on matters of water health & quality.  Our team works with schools, community groups and individuals to further public understanding of our natural waters.  Finger Lakes Learning connects the classroom to the community.  We offer participants a hands-on experience that teaches them the techniques to test water quality and evaluate aquatic ecosystems.  All of the data we source becomes publicly accessible via our webpage and by submission to relevant government agencies.  Finger Lakes Learning Inc. is organized to operate exclusively for education and information about the environment serving the citizens in the Finger Lakes of New York. In doing so, we follow 501(c)(3) code of the Internal Revenue Service.  Finger Lakes Learning is a registered educational non-profit in the state of New York and has filed an application with the IRS for 501c(3) tax-exempt status.   "

The Finger Lakes

(Of course, these are not all of the eleven Finger Lakes, but only the lakes that have appeared in Rochester-area news.)

  • Honeoye Lake  Get photographs of this Finger Lake, news, and resources, which include various environmental groups which help to maintain the health of this lake.
  • Cayuga Lake Get photographs of this Finger Lake, news, and resources, which include various environmental groups which help to maintain the health of this lake.
  • Canandaigua Lake Get photographs of this Finger Lake, news, and resources, which include various environmental groups which help to maintain the health of this lake.
  • Seneca Lake Get photographs of this Finger Lake, news, and resources, which include various environmental groups which help to maintain the health of this lake.
  • Keuka Lake  Get photographs of this Finger Lake, news, and resources, which include various environmental groups which help to maintain the health of this lake.
  • Conesus Lake Conesus Lake is one of Western New York's smaller Finger Lakes
  • Hemlock Lake Located in southeast Livingston County, Hemlock Lake lies 25 miles south of Rochester. Hemlock is one of the two Finger Lakes whose shorelines are virtually undeveloped
  • Canadice Lake Located in southwest Ontario County, Canadice Lake lies 30 miles south of Rochester. It is the smallest of the Finger Lakes whose shorelines are virtually undeveloped.

Check out this new resource for learning about our natural and cultural history of our area: Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum "Welcome to the Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum Project, a proposal to create a new museum that will showcase the 9,000-square-mile Finger Lakes Region of New York State. Exhibits are planned to include Native American culture, early colonization, and the histories of agriculture, viniculture, and commerce. Artifacts will range from antique boats and farm equipment to an immense freshwater aquarium containing the fish species that are native to the Finger Lakes. Outdoor exhibits will feature live specimens of native wildlife in natural settings like beavers, otters and the Seneca White Deer. Special focus will be given to invasive species such as lamprey eels, purple loosestrife and zebra mussels. "

Resources for Finger Lakes

Our Finger Lakes are a critical part of our regions environmental health.  Check out these resources for protecting these precious resources

  • The Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes "Our committee is committed to preserving the natural beauty and the purity of the water in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Its scenic lakes and majestic landscape make the region worth preserving for future generations. We promote preservation by objectively identifying, informing and educating the general public, officials and administrators on environmental threats.  "
  • Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance (FLRWA) In 2010, nine lake and watershed organizations representing the inhabited Finger Lakes in New York State formed the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance (“FLRWA”).  This alliance represents over 10,000 individual property owners, residents and voters across the entire Finger Lakes region. The purposes of FLRWA are to bring together the members, expertise and desires of the Finger Lakes watershed associations to preserve and protect their watersheds with a collective regional voice; to join forces to advocate for mutually beneficial regional changes, backed by sound research; and to promote collective actions that represent the desires of the entire Finger Lakes region. 
  • New York State Federation of Lakes Associations, Inc. "The New York State Federation of Lake Associations, Inc. (NYSFOLA) was founded in 1983 by a small consortium of lake associations concerned about a variety of problems facing their lakes. Water quality was of concern to nearly all of the lakes, and there was little information available on methods to combat the increasing presence of aquatic invasive species. With the assistance of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, NYSFOLA spearheaded the development of the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program. This model statewide volunteer lake monitoring program has since served over 200 New York State lakes, and it remains an important part of NYSFOLA's mission."
  • Finger Lakes Museum | Cultural and Natural History Museum "Beginning in summer 2011 the Finger Lakes Museum will present its Inaugural Program, a three-part series telling the remarkable stories of Hemlock and Canadice Lakes, entitled Back from the Brink. The series consists of three presentations which will each be offered at multiple locations throughout the Finger Lakes Region. "
  • Happenings: "The Happenings is the Finger Lakes Institute’s monthly newsletter on current issues and upcoming FLI events. Please feel free to comment on our articles. The Finger Lakes Institute is dedicated to the promotion of environmental research and education about the Finger Lakes and surrounding environments. In collaboration with regional environmental partners and state and local government offices, the Institute fosters environmentally-sound development practices throughout the region, and disseminates the accumulated knowledge to the general public. The Finger Lakes Institute is physically located at 601 S. Main St., Geneva, NY 14456. Our mailing address is 300 Pulteney St., Geneva, NY 14456"
  • Walk in the Park Exploring parks in the Finger Lakes of New York and beyond "My name is Tony Ingraham and I live in Ithaca, N.Y. For 24 years, I was in charge of environmental education for the Finger Lakes Region of New York State Parks, including Watkins Glen, Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock Falls, Cayuga Lake, Fillmore Glen, Fair Haven Beach, and many other state parks in central New York State. Since my retirement a few years ago, I formed Owl Gorge Productions, and, with the outstanding editing skills of my wife, Liz Bauman, published A Walk through Watkins Glen: Water’s Sculpture in Stone, and Ithaca: the City, Gorges, and Colleges, co-authored with Liz. A Walk through Watkins Glen won a first place award in the Media Competition of the National Association for Interpretation in 2009. To find out more about these very well-received books, please see our website. "
  • WATER QUALITY OF THE FINGER LAKES, NEW YORK: 2005 – 2008. John D. Halfman Department of Geoscience & Environmental Studies Program Finger Lakes Institute Hobart and William Smith Colleges Geneva, NY 14456 Kerry O’Neill (WS’09) Department of Geoscience Hobart and William Smith Colleges Geneva, NY 14456 3/2/200