Photo by Charles Wainwright

James T. Walsh


Day in a Life
Hancock Field
Irish Affairs
Onondaga Lake
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Onondaga Lake Partnership   (Click Image to see Pamphlet)

Onondaga Lake   

Photo by Charles Wainwright

     Onondaga Lake is located in Onondaga County, along the northern end of Syracuse, NY. It is 4.6 miles long and 1 mile wide. The average depth of the lake is 35 feet with a maximum depth of 63 feet. Its watershed consists of 285 square miles. The tributaries of the lake are Nine Mile Creek, Harbor Brook, Ley Creek, Bloody Brook, Sawmill Creek and Onondaga Creek, and the water flows out of the lake by way of Seneca River.

Brief Overview of Onondaga Lake Material in the Walsh Collection:

      The Onondaga Lake clean-up effort is the collaborative effort by the county, state and federal governments to remove the pollution from the lake. This pollution accumulated for years while Solvay Process Company used the lake for waste disposal and also as a source for cooling water for its soda ash factory. Other agencies added to the intense pollution problem.  In 1988, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan promised to pursue funds to help clean up the lake. Congressman Walsh used his influence in congress to acquire federal funds as well. This aid helped to move along the 15-year plan to clean-up the lake. Honeywell, which owned what was originally Solvay Process Company, eventually contributed over $100 million to help with the effort.

     This section of the collection, which is 6 cubic feet, includes a history of the pollution of Onondaga Lake and the clean-up efforts. There are monthly and annual reports, ranging from 1998-2008. Various projects and issues relating to the lake and the clean-up are also included. Some related material is also available in the Fiscal Years (Series 6) and Issues (Series 7) boxes of the collection. There are also media clips about the clean-up effort and progress being made. Click here to view the main listing.

Lake Cleanup Goals and Projects:



    The goal of the lake clean-up is to improve the water quality of the lake and restore its wildlife habitats. The restoration of Onondaga Lake permits it to be used again for recreational use and fishing as it was before it became a waste site. Its renewed value as a tourist attraction aids regional economic growth.


A few of the other sites that are a part of the clean-up plan.

    Onondaga Lake: Within the lake there are various pollutants including mercury, alkali wastes, ammonia and phosphorus in high levels. Because of the high mercury levels, fish from the lake could not be eaten and the lake had become a public health hazard. The plan for the clean-up is to restore a healthier habitat within and along the shore of the lake to make it safer for people and animals. This is to be done through various projects--building better waste treatment facilities and reducing Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), monitoring the lake and its tributaries to removing contaminants within the lake and capping the lake.

    Geddes Brook/Nine Mile Creek: One of the projects of the Onondaga Lake clean-up is the plan for Geddes Brook/Nine Mile Creek. Geddes Brook and Nine Mile Creek are two of the primary tributaries that flow into Onondaga Lake. By cleaning up along these streams, wetlands will be restored, habitats improved and the area opened up for recreational use. The plan includes removing contaminated soil, realigning the creeks and the design and installation of new habitat and cover systems. This will improve the habitats along the shores and make the area along the lake healthier.

    Solvay Waste Beds: The Solvay Waste Beds are located along the northwest shore of Onondaga Lake. These sites are where soda ash waste was dumped during the operation of Solvay Process Company and the succeeding Allied Chemical plant. When the water evaporated from the beds, a dry chalky white alkaline waste was left which covers over 300 acres of land. The discharge from these beds has increased the salinity of the lake and needs to be reduced. Currently investigations are underway to determine how to classify the site and what needs to be done.

Created by Kristie Bemis for History 419 and History 495.


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