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Onondaga Lake

Onondaga Lake is experiencing a remarkable recovery – due in large part to the investments in green/gray infrastructure and upgrades to the County’s state-of-the-art Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Facility (Metro).

As a result, water quality in the Lake and its tributaries has greatly improved. The Lake ecosystem is thriving and is now home to a diverse and abundant fish community. Follow the link below to read about Onondaga Lake’s rich history and its path to restoration.  Onondaga Lake has once again become an asset to our community!

Over the last decade, water quality in Onondaga Lake has improved dramatically. These improvements are a direct result of many actions taken by the County, such as:

  • $173 million in investment upgrades at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant (Metro). These upgrades included advanced ammonia and phosphorus removal. As a result, ammonia levels in Metro’s treated outflow dropped by 98% and phosphorus levels dropped by 80%.

  • Improvements to the sewer system, including sewer separation projects that have resulted in the elimination of 13 combined sewer overflowoutfalls

  • Implementation of over 200 green infrastructure projects in the combined sewershed. These projects soak up about 154 million gallons of stormwater each year. This helps to prevent combined sewer overflows and keeps pollutants from entering Onondaga Lake.

Today, Onondaga Lake resembles other regional lakes with respect to number of fish species present, the extent of aquatic vegetation and summertime water clarity. Since 2000, more than 149,000 individual fish and 66 species of fish have been identified in the Lake through the County’s sampling efforts.  Once rarely caught, brown trout now persist in the Lake throughout most of the year due to improving dissolved oxygen levels.

Lower phosphorus levels in the lake have resulted in fewer and less sever algal blooms. In fact, a bloom has not occurred in Onondaga Lake since 2007. Onondaga Lake is unique in that much of it’s shoreline is publically owned. There are many projects underway designed to connect the Lake with the City of Syracuse and surrounding areas through trails, parkland and destination venues. Members of the community are once again beginning to view the Lake as an asset and recreational activities are returning to the Lake and its shores.

The health of Onondaga Lake is directly related to the County’s Save the Rain program! Today’s celebration of the Lake is the culmination of decades of hard work and commitment. We have reached a watershed moment!  As we look to the future, we recognize the positive impact that a clean Onondaga Lake can have on this region, and we are committed to preserving this natural resource for future generations.

Onondaga Lake Fish Communities

Onondaga Lake is undergoing a remarkable recovery! Water quality has greatly improving and the fish communities are thriving.

The Ambient Monitoring Program (AMP) is Onondaga County’s comprehensive program to evaluate the quality of the waterways and track changes brought about by the improvements to the wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure and reductions in watershed sources of nutrients. As part of the AMP, Onondaga County has been monitoring the fish community of Onondaga Lake since 2000. Changes in the fish community have occurred as water quality and habitat conditions have improved. The significant reductions in ammonia and phosphorus input, resulting from improved treatment at the Metropolitan Syracuse Wastewater Treatment Plant (Metro), have resulted in increased dissolved oxygen and water clarity levels and a decline in algal abundance. Clear water improves light penetration, allowing expansion of aquatic plants and improving fish habitat. Since 2000, more than 149,000 individual fish have been captured from Onondaga Lake by Onondaga County’s sampling efforts, representing fifty-three species.

fish species identified in onondaga lake

abundant species

(>1000 individuals)

Banded Killifish
Brook Silverside
Brown Bullhead
Gizzard Shad
Golden Shiner
Largemouth Bass
Smallmouth Bass
White Perch
White Sucker
Yellow Perch

common species

(50-1000 individuals)

Bluntnose Minnow
Channel Catfish
Emerald Shiner
Fathead Minnow
Freshwater Drum
Log Perch
Longnose Gar
Northern Pike
Rock Bass
Round Goby
Shorthead Redhorse
Tessellated Darter

uncommon species

(<50 individuals)

Black Bullhead
Black Crappie
Brook Stickleback
Brown Trout
Chain Pickerel
Creek Chub
Greater Redhorse
Green Sunfish
Johnny Darter
Lake Strugeon
Longnose Dace
Northern Hogsucker
Rainbow Smelt
Rainbow Trout
Silver Redhorse
Spotfin Shiner
Spottaiil Shiner
Tadpole Madtom
Tiger Muskie
Trout Perch
White Bass
Yellow Bullhead