News Detail

Article: WHAT IS SWIO?

An Introduction to the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization
Mark Venuti, SWIO Chair 

*Taken from the SPECIAL EDITION: Supporting the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization from Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association. 

Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (SWIO) - it’s a mouthful and spellcheck will tell you intermunicipal is not a word. Yet here we are, and we go with SWIO to save our breath. So why is there a SWIO? 

In 1998, representatives from the five counties in the Seneca Lake watershed - Chemung, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca and Yates – formed an organization, called the Seneca Lake Area Partners in Five Counties (SLAP-5), to address watershed concerns. However, in New York land use is primarily regulated by cities, towns and villages. In 2015, it was evident those local municipalities had to be involved to understand and deal with practical issues that affect water quality. The Seneca Watershed Plan that was completed in 2015 also recommended a move to a municipal organization, so SWIO was created and replaced SLAP-5. 

By 2019, all five counties and 21 of the 40 other municipalities in the watershed had signed the Memorandum of Understanding to join SWIO. SWIO was meeting quarterly and discussing issues like model septic system regulations, lake friendly zoning codes, and working with county Soil and Water Conservation Districts to support education and best management practices for farmers and others to improve the quality of the water flowing into Seneca Lake. This grand lake, now the center of Finger Lakes wine country and tourism, was showing the strain of nutrient loading and other impurities with harmful algal blooms and other negative impacts.

SWIO, to this point managed by volunteer officers busy with full-time occupations, needed a paid manager who could write grant applications to fund storm-water control projects and assist municipal leaders in the fight to save the lake from further degradation. Our neighbors in Canandaigua and Cayuga lakes already had watershed managers who were bringing in millions for projects and had become the go-to people in their watersheds for water quality concerns. State funding to hire a Seneca Watershed Steward was obtained with the assistance of State Senator Pam Helming, and Ian Smith was hired as the first Watershed Steward in the spring of 2019. This effort is assisted by the Finger Lakes Institute of Hobart & William Smith Colleges, which provides Ian with an office and other support. 

We are currently in a membership drive to get more of the municipalities in the watershed to join and support the organization financially, using what we call a fair-share formula to allocate the cost among our members based on factors like the amount of the municipality in the watershed, population density, shoreline, assessed value, and public water withdrawal. SWIO moves its quarterly meetings around the watershed. The next meeting is scheduled for September 29 at 7:00 p.m. at the Yates County Office Building in Penn Yan. Join us, and help us preserve this wonderful place we call home for ourselves and future generations.


3750 County Road 6, 
Geneva, New York 14456