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Oswego River AOC

Contact Information

U.S. EPA RAP Liaison
John Perrecone (perrecone.john@epa.gov) 312-353-1149

State RAP Contacts

Gerald Pratt
New York State AOC Coordinator

Oswego River Remedial Advisory Committee
Karen Noyes
Committee Chair
Oswego County Department of Planning and Community Development

Frequent Acronyms

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Oswego River AoC Boundary Map

Oswego River AOC Boundary Map (PDF) (1pg, 484K)

Oswego River shape file (ZIP) (12K)


On July 21, 2006, the Oswego River, New York Area of Concern (AOC) became the first United States AOC to be formally delisted. As a result of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada and much hard work and cooperation, the lower Oswego River and Harbor is once again the crown jewel of the City of Oswego! Through coordinated efforts, the City of Oswego has revitalized the downtown area, the Port Authority has made many improvements, boating and fishing interests have grown, and water access and water quality have improved tremendously.

As a diverse group of community stakeholders and citizens, the Remedial Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, documented in the Stage 3 Remedial Action Plan [Oswego_Stage3a.PDF (PDF 3.64Mb, 136 pages; Oswego_Stage3b.PDF (PDF 1.5Mb, 84 pages)] that the RAP process responded to local interests and concerns. The report was designed specifically to focus on and address the resolution of the fourteen RAP use impairment indicators in detail. The data and strategies establish the resolution of the indicators. The delisting document includes 135 pages of Appendices that lists the RAC participants, details the evaluation strategy / criteria / endpoints, contains a responsiveness summary to concerns, summarizes the remedial activities contributing to the restoration and protection over the last fifteen years, contains the pubic involvement power point presentation, lists the FERC license provisions, and describes other RAP supporting activities including a list of references.

For the Oswego RAP, impairments involving fish consumption, fish habitat and populations, and eutrophication and algae were identified. Through public participation, investigative studies, expert involvement and assessment efforts, we know that pollution reduction activities to address hazardous waste sites, point and non-point water discharges, watershed best management practices, and local agency river corridor enhancement activities addressed the indicators and beneficial uses for the Oswego AOC. Consistent with delisting guidance, the larger Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan responds to the fish consumption advisories, the FERC relicensing of the power dams responds to the fish habitat and population recovery, and eutrophication, algae, and weed characteristics have improved to be not impaired and managed as nuisance conditions where they occur in isolated areas. Watershed restoration and protection activities as well as Lake Ontario initiatives all contribute to the desired results.

There is a true success story behind the preparation of the Stage 3 document and delisting of the Oswego River Area of Concern. Historically, the Oswego watershed was an identified source of contamination to Lake Ontario. A water quality change from an image of garbage, sewage and undesired pollution to that of becoming a focus of the waterfront community was achieved. By representing stakeholder interests, the RAP Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC) accomplished the community’s recognition of the importance of this area as a natural resource and thereby encouraged others to act responsibly to restore and to protect the environment and the beneficial uses of the waters. The RAC stakeholders have determined, influenced, and observed the implementation of many supportive activities in the Oswego watershed.

For example, the City of Oswego revitalized the river shoreline and downtown area, the Port Authority made many aesthetic and pollution control improvements, recreational boating and sport fishing interests have grown, upstream hazardous waste site remediation has addressed downstream impacts, and water access and water quality have improved tremendously. Other activities and improvements included: the undertaking and accomplishment of a number of investigative studies and report review activities by the RAP; the FERC power dam license provisions which fully respond to the needs identified in the Fisheries Enhancement Plan for the Oswego River and receipt of research funding by the academic community based on the AOC designation. Recreational interests have been protected and improved by the AOC designation and responsible agencies oversight.

The RAC effectively implemented the application of the body of knowledge that only an ecosystem approach can accomplish. As a result, the status of each of the Use Impairment Indicators was resolved and an understanding was achieved that a significant impairment and/or threat to the AOC environment does not exist. The conclusion is that the lower Oswego River and harbor area no longer warrant the AOC designation.

NYSDEC, USEPA, and other agencies will continue to use the existing suite of environmental law and regulatory oversight to implement, monitor and enforce programs that protect the environment in and around the AOC. The presence of local area environmental groups, concerned citizens, and the agencies’ purview provide a vigilance that assures beneficial uses will remain intact and that the riverine system will not revert back to an impaired status.

Related Documents


The Oswego River/Harbor Area of Concern (AOC) is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario and is centered in the City of Oswego, New York. The AOC includes the harbor area and the lower segment of the Oswego River up to the Varick power dam. The harbor itself is characterized as a multiple-use resource and over 1.2 million people live in the drainage basin. The Oswego River watershed includes the Finger Lakes, industries, municipalities, and extensive areas of farmland and forest that expand an area of over 5,100 square miles. The Oswego River is second only to the Niagara River in size as a tributary to Lake Ontario.

A comprehensive RAP Update was published in 1996 and includes results of a fish pathology study, Oswego River and harbor water quality and sediment investigations, remedial activity progress, and delisting criteria. A 1998 workshop accomplished its objective to obtain an improved understanding of these study results and to better define the next steps and actions needed to restore and to protect the Oswego River AOC. The importance and close relationships of addressing the fish consumption restrictions and fish habitat/population impairments as part of larger management plans operating external, however influencing the AOC, were recognized.

Workshop proceedings, including comments and recommendations, were published along with a RAP Update in 1999. Results of that workshop addressed the use impairment indicators and established the supporting data, strategy, and rationale for the preparation of the Stage 3 document.

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Beneficial Use Impairments

Oswego Harbor is one of the original 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC) for which Remedial Action Plans (RAP) were developed in the late 1980s to address impairments to fishing and recreational activities. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) initiated public input into the development of the Oswego River RAP in 1987 with the establishment of an advisory committee. Historically, upstream pollutants were known to have traveled through the river and harbor, and impacted the Lake Ontario ecosystem, thereby forming the basis for the Area of Concern designation. The 1990 Stage1 RAP identified beneficial use impairments (BUI) and their causes and sources. The main impairments for the RAP to address were identified as fish consumption restrictions (re: Lake Ontario), loss of fish habitat, fish population change, and reported eutrophic conditions associated with non-AOC sources. (These impairments are bulleted in the table above; the remaining impairments either required further investigation or were evaluated as not impaired.) The 1991 Stage 2 RAP described next step remedial actions to restore beneficial uses and to eliminate adverse impacts to Lake Ontario. The current final Stage 3 – Delisting document resolves each of the RAP beneficial use indicators for the AOC.

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Delisting Targets

For a quick reference to Oswego River beneficial use impairment endpoints (PDF 85Kb, 1 page), view this extraction from Table 1 of the Oswego River Stage 3 Delisting document.

In the Oswego River Stage 3 Delisting document, each of the fourteen IJC beneficial use indicators has been developed to detail the resolution and delisting for each of the use impairment indicators. Table 1 provides summary information for each of the use impairment indicator endpoints, the original status of each indicator, the revised indicator status, identification of responsible parties, and the supporting data and rationale for the resolution of each RAP indictor. The table combines input from the Use Impairment Indicator Sub-Committee of the Oswego River RAP Remedial Advisory Committee on the definition of desired endpoints that serve to resolve the use impairment indicators. These endpoints describe the restoration of best uses in order to delist the indicator. By comparing the original status of the use impairment indicators from the 1990 Stage 1 RAP to the resolved status of each indicator, the table illustrates what has been accomplished for the delisting of the Area of Concern. The resolution of each indicator involves the description of the supporting data and the rationale to document that the beneficial use has been addressed. The resolution of the use impairment indicators for the Oswego RAP is described in Section III of the Oswego River Stage 3 Delisting document.

The Great Lakes community (including USEPA, IJC, and RAP Remedial Advisory Committees) has conducted meetings and developed principles and guidance towards accomplishing delisting. Consistent with this guidance, NYSDEC and the Oswego River RAP Remedial Advisory Committee have adopted key delisting principles and guidance points, formulated next step delisting actions, and identified responsibilities in conducting post-delisting activities. Each of these is necessary and applicable to moving ahead to accomplish delisting of the Oswego River Area of Concern. See Section IV of the Oswego River Stage 3 Delisting document.

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RAP Development and Status

The most recent efforts of the Remedial Advisory Committee focused on the development of the strategies and endpoints to address each of the RAP use impairment indicators in the preparation of a Stage 3 delisting document. The supporting data and rationale are provided to resolve the impairments and describe that the desired beneficial use objectives have been met. For the AOC, these endpoints have been achieved by the RAP process to the maximum extent practicable. Through remedial action and studies, we now know that the Oswego River RAP designated area is no longer an Area of Concern contributing to Great Lakes' use impairments and that the Oswego RAP process has accomplished what it can within the AOC. The RAP substantiates that the water quality is not impaired. The remaining issues are therefore actually part of the resolution strategy of more inclusive regional management plan activities. Within the AOC, achieving the endpoints for the habitat and fish consumption impairments is therefore being addressed respectively by provisions of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions (FERC) power dam license for the Oswego River and the binational Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP).

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Significant RAP Milestones

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RAP Implementation

Recent progress and achievements

Implementation of the Oswego River RAP is a dynamic, continuous improvement process that has included periodic updates and improvements as knowledge of the use impairments, sources, and remedial action has progressed. Within the Area of Concern, the Oswego River watershed, Lake Ontario, and reference communities, studies and assessment have assisted in identifying and acting on priorities. The priorities have included fish consumption restrictions, fish habitat evaluation and resolution, sediment investigation, aesthetics assessment, and contaminant track down activities. Restoring and maintaining an improved quality of life in the ecosystem of the Oswego River Area of Concern and its watershed is a goal that much progress has been made towards achieving.

A 1998 Two-Day Workshop helped to better define the steps and needed actions to restore and protect the beneficial uses of the Oswego River AOC. Following are some activity highlights relative to RAP progress and achievements. Nine environmental program areas are used to describe progress. Concurrent with the RAP process, many NYSDEC environmental program activities are in place and progressing as part of State environmental protection laws and policies, and therefore are being implemented independent of any formal RAP coordination. The RAP strategies do, however, make use of all resource commitments to restore beneficial uses. The challenge of the RAC has been to assure that all stakeholder interests and concerns have been satisfactorily investigated and resolved as much as possible. A key to successful restoration has been securing implementation commitments to achieve RAP objectives.

Hazardous Waste Site Remediation (Land-Based):
Many hazardous waste site remediation projects have and are occurring in the Oswego River watershed. These upstream activities reduce loadings to the receiving waters and benefit the AOC and Lake Ontario. At the Columbia Mills site, storage tanks and sewer remediation work has been completed and the landfill is capped. A Consent Order has addressed PCB contamination in dredged material along the banks of Ley Creek in the Syracuse Area. The restoration of Onondaga Lake and its effect on the Oswego River system continues to make progress as surrounding sites are remediated and the Syracuse Metropolitan municipal discharge is upgraded to tertiary treatment. Although manufacturing has ceased, Miller Brewing has completed measures to address the City of Fulton's water supply. The Volney Landfill remediation was completed in 2002. The Clay Town Landfill cap is complete. The Clothier site and Fulton Terminals remediation projects have also been completed.

Contaminated River Sediments:
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has developed a comprehensive Contaminated Sediment Management Strategy. Four goals address prevention, cleanup, disposal management, and consistent analytical methodologies. The Oswego River Sediment Study report was completed in April 1997. This report addresses ten areas of investigation along the Oswego River including the AOC. Follow-up investigation was conducted upstream of the Oswego River AOC at Battle Island near the Armstrong facility below Fulton. Review of the 2002 Sediment Report did not identify a need for further follow-up action. Surveillance and assessment of these upstream sites continues under state and federal core environmental programs. The DEC and EPA agencies are prepared to take action to respond to source trackdown priorities with appropriate remedial measures when evaluation warrants this activity.

Point Source Discharge Control:
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has developed an Environmental Benefit Permit Strategy to assist in establishing priority for renewal modifications of point source discharge permits based on the identification of environmental/water quality benefits. A significant reduction in the mass of PCBs and other contaminants discharged within the Oswego River drainage basin by area industries (primarily stormwater and site related) has been achieved by the installation of improved wastewater treatment systems, implementation of best management practices, and hazardous waste site remediation activities. U.S. EPA and New York's Environmental Bond Act are both supplying funding to complete treatment plant upgrades and infrastructure improvements.

Nonpoint Source Pollution Control:
Excessive nutrients (phosphorus) and sedimentation (erosion) from agriculture are believed to be the main nonpoint source pollution problems in the Oswego River Drainage Basin. County Water Quality Management Strategies have been developed to address nonpoint source pollution. Implementation of these strategies and related Best Management Practices (BMPs), including improvements to stormwater management, has been progressing. Various funding programs (grants) support and are available to assist in the implementation of nonpoint source pollution control efforts. The grants provide for agricultural projects and non-agricultural nonpoint source projects.

Air Pollution Control:
Air pollution remedial strategies call for the reduction of contaminant emissions from the major industrial facilities. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 require air discharges to comply with Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) limits. Where appropriate, NYS Air Standards require treatment beyond MACT. The Oswego County and Onondaga County waste incinerators are two facilities that have conducted monitoring concerning their air discharges involving dioxin. New York State has put together a comprehensive program to improve air quality and to bring the State into compliance with the 1990 federal Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA).

Fish and Wildlife Assessments/Actions:
Key use impairment indicators in the Oswego RAP are based on the status of fish and wildlife conditions and considerations. A number of studies have reported useful information. A fish pathology study conducted by Cornell University found little evidence of impairment of fish health by contaminants in the Oswego River harbor. Fish consumption restrictions and habitat impairments are known; however, contaminant levels are below those causing an increase in fish tumors or other abnormalities. Routine fish monitoring studies provide significant protection for the establishment of advisories. Results of fish and wildlife investigation, environmental monitoring and habitat restoration and protection activities in and around the Oswego River Area of Concern have been developed as part of remedial planning actions. Funding for investigative studies is very limited. The provisions of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process addressing the Varick power dam fully address the fish habitat and population concerns for the RAP as described in the Oswego River Fisheries Enhancement Plan.

Health and Environmental Assessments/Actions:
Maintaining current and useful contaminated fish consumption advisory information serves to reduce exposure of user groups. NYSDEC in conjunction with NYSDOH has prepared updated fish consumption advisory pamphlets to assist with public outreach and education. Additional funding to assist with providing improved communication of the fish consumption advisory at the local level and to continue research necessary to monitor long-term trends in regard to the larger lakewide advisory would be beneficial beyond the current level of funding. Additional funds would also be useful to conduct further human health assessments particularly in larger management planning activities.

Investigations and Monitoring Activities:
The results of conducting various investigations and monitoring activities have been instrumental toward resolving the Oswego River Area of Concern use impairments. Some monitoring plans are part of other environmental program activities (e.g. hazardous waste site remediation) and the larger Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP). The development and implementation of these plans are subject to regulatory review, approval and limited resources of funding. Although the goal is to encourage the ecosystem approach, project money may very well have specific requirements attached that limit the benefits to the Remedial Action Plan. The Oswego RAP has been fortunate in that a number of investigative and monitoring study results have contributed to resolving use impairments in the AOC.

Current projects and outlook

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RAP-Related Publications

In addition, AOC-related documents for the Oswego River AOC are available from the RAP Coordinator or as noted below. These documents include:

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Community Involvement

Recent efforts focused on defining the endpoints to address the use impairments and consulting environmental experts regarding monitoring and assessment. Finally, realizing that significant activities had been accomplished to address pollutant sources was a key to stakeholder involvement in evaluating what the RAP Process had achieved. Over the years, the Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC) conducted monthly, and later quarterly, meetings on RAP implementation. The committee has consisted of a diverse and multi-stakeholder representation with the task of identifying needed studies and remedial actions, seeking implementation, and then affecting these activities in the watershed and AOC. Reporting on progress and communicating this information to the public has been an objective of the committee.

RAP Public Participation and Outreach: Conducting regular meetings of the Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC) throughout the development and implementation of the all three stages of the RAP Process has been a significant remedial activity. A number of measures to improve communication have been conducted including: development of a slide show and public display to increase public awareness, use of pamphlets and newsletters, RAP documents, and a workshop. It is important that the RAP process and other responsible parties continue to keep stakeholders informed of remedial activities and progress and continue to provide a means for local concerns to be expressed and addressed. Next step actions have included activities to conduct presentations of the AOC delisting. Input from this public consultation along with DEC’s liaison with USEPA, GLNPO, local agencies, and IJC has lead to the development of the final Stage 3 Oswego River delisting document. A 45-day formal public comment period was conducted and ended on January 27, 2006. All substantive comments are addressed in the Stage 3 delisting document. Public activities that were instrumental and very effective in the 1990’s Oswego River RAP process have included the following:

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process: The relicensing process of the power facilities along the Oswego River addressed the fish habitat and population concerns for the Area of Concern. Provisions fully address the needs of the Oswego River Fisheries Enhancement Plan.

Remedial Advisory Committee (RAC) Activities: In addition to periodic meetings, the RAC has produced and distributed a RAP poster and bumper stickers, participated in Harborfest Celebrations and Fulton River Days, conducted a public information survey and involved the local news media.

Oswego County Water Quality Advisory Committee: The Oswego County Water Quality Strategy was prepared by the OCWQAC. The committee works to coordinate efforts to improve water quality in the county, especially through the development and implementation of a strategy to control nonpoint source water pollution. Activities have greatly contributed to the RAP.

Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District: OCSWCD strives to address nonpoint sources of pollution in the county. Invasive species control including aquatic plants and weeds is a priority in the Oswego River. Nonpoint sources are seen as a threat or potential threat to water quality in all of the county's major watersheds. The SWCD and Environmental Management Council (EMC) strive to address sources of nonpoint pollution including: agricultural and related runoff (fertilizers and pesticides), sedimentation from erosion, septic system failure and other runoff from sources such as road salt, leaking underground storage tanks and other chemical containers to protect the environment.

Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP): the RAP and LaMP are linked in many ways. Stakeholders share watershed, tributary, nearshore, and lakewide concerns and strive to effect restoration and protection priorities and activities.

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The power dam and power plant have changed the characteristics of the Oswego River

The power dam and power plant have changed the characteristics of the Oswego River.

View looking north towards Lake Ontario and the harbor from the power dam on the Oswego River

View looking north towards Lake Ontario and the harbor from the power dam on the Oswego River.

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