Press conference in Geneva praises passage of $2.5 billion for projects to protect water sources

The recently passed state budget includes $2.5 billion to fund water projects. On Thursday, in her first press conference since taking office in January, state Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, touted the benefits of these dollars to the Finger Lakes.

“I realized early on during the budget process that we need to include funding to protect drinking water at its source,” Helming said before state and local officials and others concerned with watershed protection in the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Seneca Room on Main Street in Geneva. Behind Helming and other speakers, a panoramic view of Seneca Lake through a glass wall presented a reminder of what the region offers.

The Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 will provide funds for clean water projects that include repair and replacement of intermunicipal water infrastructure and a septic system rebate program. Helming said $110 million of the Clean Water funds will go to preserving sources of drinking water. Those funds will be used for voluntary conservation of small, strategic areas that directly impact drinking water sources such as lakes and watersheds. These buffers will protect against pollutants and provide natural filtration for water.

The Act will also provide farmers with financial help to comply with regulations meant to protect water sources from unintended farm runoff — a particular concern in the Finger Lakes with its slopes above lakes.

Municipalities will have to apply for the funds, which will be distributed through a competitive grant process.

“With the increase of harmful algal bloom events across the Finger Lakes, it is essential to take steps to protect the safety of our drinking water for our communities,” said Lisa Cleckner, director of the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She commended Helming, fellow legislators, and the governor for recognizing the importance of protecting and preserving clean water.

Others who spoke about the significance of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act included Ann Marie Heizmann, president of the Seneca County Farm Bureau, and Assemblyman Bob Oaks, R-Macedon. Canandaigua Lake Watershed Program Manager Kevin Olvany also spoke, and several citizens involved in Canandaigua Lake's watershed programs attended.

Olvany said funds will help wetland and floodplain projects that filter out nutrients, bacteria and sediment from stormwater runoff before these pollutants enter Canandaigua Lake. He added that restoring and improving the resiliency of the landscape to filter pollutants is the best way to reduce problems like blue-green algae.

Political Roundup, a clearinghouse of announcements and developments in local politics, runs on Fridays in the Daily Messenger. To submit an item for consideration, email senior reporter Julie Sherwood at jsherwood@messengerpostmedia.com.