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Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance

Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie counties working together to protect the New York State portion of the Lake Erie Watershed!

Lake Erie is the southernmost, smallest by volume, and shallowest of the five Great Lakes. This makes it the warmest and most biologically active of the Great Lakes and has allowed for a booming commercial fishing industry, as well as many other industries and recreational opportunities. Because it is part of the largest surface freshwater resource in the world, Lake Erie's watershed (drainage area) is densely populated, extensively farmed, and highly industrialized. With drainage from Ontario, Canada and the states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, Lake Erie is impacted by the activities of approximately 12 million residents and provides drinking water to approximately 11 million residents.

The Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed in New York State has more than 1.1 million people living in it. It is critical that the land draining to Lake Erie and the Niagara River is managed effectively to protect water quality! That's where the Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance (LEWPA) comes in.

What is a watershed?

A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that drains on the land (stormwater and surface water) or below the land (groundwater) empties to a particular body of water. Watersheds can be large or small and smaller areas are often called sub-watersheds or sub-basins. Check out this 20-minute video that explains watersheds and how our actions impact the water quality around us. 

How did LEWPA form?

LEWPA logo

A major flood event in August of 2009 initiated the response of municipal officials in three counties around Cattaraugus Creek to lead a grassroots effort to proactively manage their local watersheds, all of which drain to Lake Erie. The storm event highlighted localized flooding problems, excessive debris accumulation in area streams, and overall non-point source pollution issues (such as sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, auto fluids, bacteria, nutrients, etc.) affecting their respective communities and ultimately Lake Erie. LEWPA was formalized in 2012 with an intermunicipal agreement between Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie counties as a membership of stakeholders to address water quality issues affecting the New York portion of the Lake Erie watershed and its shoreline.

What are some of the water quality issues?

Point-source pollution comes from pipes. These are often state or federally regulated discharge points from industry and wastewater treatment. Many of our everyday activities can negatively impact water quality as well though through non-point source pollution. These actions, such as applying chemicals to the lawn, not picking up pet waste, or not maintaining your septic system, can cause pollutants to wash into our waterways. These are referred to as non-point source pollution because this pollution is generally spread across the land as opposed to coming from a pipe. It adds up to be a major concern to water quality. You can help be a part of the solution though! Tips and information are below.

Stormwater is precipitation that runs off surfaces and can pick-up contaminants along the way. See the Western New York Stormwater Coalition's website for more information about ways you can personally prevent stormwater pollution. 

Outreach and Education Materials

To find out more about the Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed and what you can do to help protect water quality, check out the following resources:

Septic System Maintenance:

Municipal and Elected Official Outreach:

Winter Outreach:

  • Road Salt StoryMap and flyer - Learn how to be Salt Smart to protect our watershed. A little goes a long way. More salt doesn't necessarily make the sidewalks or roads more safe. One large coffee mug of salt can melt the ice on 10 sidewalk squares or about 20ft of driveway. Follow @FreshietheFrog on Facebook or Instagram for more tips about #SaltSmart.

Spring Outreach:

Summer Outreach:

  • Healthy Lawns - Learn about ways to manage your lawn with fewer chemicals
  • Defend the Dunes brochure - Natural sand dunes along the coast provide a valuable resiliency resource. Stay off of them to protect dune grasses.
  • Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) - HABs can be found locally in smaller lakes and streams, as well as in the western portion of Lake Erie. Check out the Great Lakes Commission's Great Lakes HABs Collaborative for more information. You can also see if there are any reported HABs near you in New York State.

Fall Outreach:

  • Managing Yard Waste Brochure - Do not rake your leaves into the street, stormwater ditches, or waterways. Leaves contain phosphorus and sometimes bacteria from pet waste. When it rains, they are carried down the ditches or down the street to storm drains (catch basins) that may lead directly to our waterways. They can also clog the storm drains and cause localized flooding. Make sure to manage your yard waste responsibly. Consider starting a compost pile in your yard to recycle your leaves and create beneficial soil for your garden or use a mower to mulch them into your lawn.

Coastal Resources:

What does LEWPA do?

The mission of the Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance is to foster collaboration and partnerships within the watershed to address regional water quality and quantity concerns and in doing so, protect and enhance our Lake Erie resource. The mission will be furthered through the implementation of the following objectives:

  • Support existing federal and state Lake Erie restoration initiatives or recommendations
  • Implement a watershed management approach to protecting water quality
  • Leverage community assets and other support
  • Reduce point source and non-point source water pollution
  • Protect and enhance swimming, fishing, and other recreational activities
  • Reduce the impacts and costs of flooding
  • Conserve, protect, and restore natural habitat
  • Identify, prioritize, and quantify specific problems and their solutions in support of the mission
  • Build community stewardship through education and outreach to improve community awareness of the value and importance of Lake Erie and to increase community involvement in preserving the lake as a resource
  • Address failing and outdated municipal infrastructure needs

LEWPA has a line item in the NYS Environmental Protection Fund to implement water quality improvement projects locally. You can see information about the projects on the Current LEWPA Activities webpage.

LEWPA completed the first Lake Erie Watershed Municipal Survey in 2013. To find out more, visit our web page on the Lake Erie Watershed Municipal Survey Report. You can also learn more about our history in the LEWPA Newsletter.

LEWPA meeting agendas and minutes can be found on our meeting webpage

Other Web Resources:

NY Great Lakes Clearinghouse website offers links to statewide information on water quality, etc.

Find out about fishing resources along Lake Erie and the Niagara River.

Check out our Invasive Species webpage for more information on these threats.

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is working to clean-up water quality in the Niagara River watershed.