The Mighty Genesee's watersheds cover 1.6 million acres between its origin in Potter County, Pennsylvania, and its end at Lake Ontario. That means a variety of things influence the river's water quality and that of its tributaries.
But the two biggest concerns are the levels of phosphorus and suspended solids like sediment that are in the waters of the Genesee and the streams that feed into it, which include Black Creek, Oatka Creek, Honeoye Creek, Conesus Creek, and Canaseraga Creek. Those two pollutants are at the center of the Genesee RiverWatch's first-ever report card on the Genesee River and its tributaries.
The report card gave the basin on the whole a "C" because of phosphorus and suspended solids levels found in water samples collected by volunteers.
"In summary, there are portions of the Genesee River watershed that are environmentally in good health," the report says. "However, major portions of the watershed are degraded to varying degrees."
Phosphorus is a nutrient that feeds problematic algae blooms. The Genesee River basin is largely rural and much of the phosphorus pollution results from agricultural practices and smaller wastewater treatment plants. Suspended solids indicate land and streambank erosion, but they can also carry phosphorus.
The report is meant to help raise awareness about water quality in the Genesee River basin, and to help the public "understand that there is a watershed here, and there are some issues that need to be addressed," says George Thomas, executive director of Center for Environmental Information and Genesee RiverWatch. "And maybe provoke a conversation about it."
The report offers some suggestions for improving water quality in the river basin. Among them: strengthening regulations for small wastewater treatment plants and working with farmers to improve agricultural management practices.
It also encourages people to work with government agencies on projects and efforts to improve water quality. Those kinds of efforts are likely reflected in the "B" grades received by Black Creek and Oatka Creek, Thomas says. Each has an active watershed group where citizens and governments work together.