The principal water resource of the Keuka Lake watershed is the lake itself. Keuka is the third largest of the Finger Lakes in volume and size, occupying about 11,614 acres. The lake is 19.6 miles long, an average of 0.71 miles wide, a maximum of 186 feet deep and contains about 375 billion gallons of water.
The lake is drained by the Keuka Outlet, which flows from Penn Yan to Dresden on Seneca Lake. The lake is controlled by a set of gates operated by the Village of Penn Yan and owned by the Keuka Lake Outlet Compact, a board consisting of the eight supervisors and mayors of the municipalities around Keuka Lake.
The quantity and quality of water in Keuka Lake depends on the water draining into the lake from the watershed. The watershed boundary - roughly defined by the hills surrounding the lake - is often far away from the lake itself and crosses many political boundaries.
Most of the water reaching the lake arrives via tributaries which drain 29 major subwatersheds or directly through groundwater flow. The drainage basin of the watershed, including the lake surface, measures 174 square miles or 111,360 acres. Principal streams flowing into Keuka Lake include: Sugar Creek, Chidsey Point, Knotty Pine, Wagener Glenn, Urbana Point, Glen Brook, Cold Brook, Mount Washington, Day Road, Eggleston Glen, Willow Grove, and Brandy Bay. Direct drainage areas include Branchport, Coryell, Boyd Hill, Armstrong Road, Pulteney, Urbana, Grove Springs, Keuka Village, Barrington, Milo, Jerusalem, East Bluff and West Bluff.
Many of the wetlands of the Keuka Lake watershed have been drained and/or filled for development and agricultural use. Upland, lakeside and streamside wetlands have been mostly eliminated, except for small remnants. The wetland system at the north end of the lake and along the outlet has been fragmented, channeled and developed for residential and municipal uses. Three lakeside wetlands, at Penn Yan, Branchport, and Hammondsport, exist today. A few wetlands exist in the Sugar Creek, Cold Brook, Chidsey Point, and Brandy Bay subwatersheds.
Water quality protection efforts aimed at protecting Keuka Lake must also include protecting the groundwater that feeds the lake. The groundwater map below provides a regional view of the availability of groundwater in the watershed. Productive areas (aquifers) are those having potential water yields greater than 100 gallons per minute (gpm) and which are actively recharged. Potential aquifers are areas with a yield of less than 100 gpm. Non-aquifers have potential yields of less than 5 gpm.
Hammondsport and the Sugar Creek or Guyanoga Valley are the two major aquifer areas in the watershed. Smaller, but significant aquifer areas are found in Pulteney, Keuka Park and on several of the major deltas around the lake.
The bedrock of the Keuka Lake watershed consists of sedimentary rocks deposited 375-360 million years ago during the Middle and Upper Devonian Period. Today this region is part of the hilly, glaciated Allegheny Plateau. Bedrock consists largely of sandstones, siltstones and shales.
Following the deposition of the bedrock, the Allegheny Plateau was uplifted and eroded by streams draining southward toward the Atlantic Ocean through the Susquehanna River system. During the Ice Ages, which commenced approximately two million years ago, a mile-thick ice sheet advanced and retreated at least four times through the basin. The ice further deepened, widened, and straightened the existing valley. During the retreat of the final glacier, the ice front halted at the south end of the lake near Hammondsport, depositing a steep, linear ridge of glacial till known as the Valley Heads Moraine. This moraine effectively dammed the channel, creating Keuka and most of the other Finger Lakes.
SURFACE GEOLOGY AND SOILS
Six types of surface conditions exist within the Keuka Lake watershed. At the northwest and south ends of the lake are broad bands of lacustrine (lake) silts and clays, as well as deposits of organic muck and alluvial (water deposited) materials located along the swampy lowlands of Sugar Creek near Branchport and along the Keuka Inlet at Hammondsport. Most of the upland areas of the watershed are covered with deposits of glacial till (mixture of glacially laid rocks, sand, silt and clay) varying in thickness from a few feet to twenty feet or more. In many places the till is completely absent and bedrock is exposed at the surface. Glacial outwash (materials deposited by glacial meltwater) are found along Sugar Creek and in the valley between Hammondsport and Bath, as well as in the lowland between the village of Keuka Park and Keuka State Park.
Around the perimeter of the lake hundreds of gullies cut steep and broken land. The soils of these tributaries are deeply dissected and eroded. In some areas, the slopes are nearly vertical with large rock outcroppings. In other areas, the soils are deep and have a tendency to slump down hill, causing a great deal of erosion and sedimentation in the lake. The best use of these areas is maintaining natural forest vegetation to provide forest cover and retain soil.
Near Hammondsport and Branchport, poorly drained silt loam soils are common along the Cold Brook and Sugar Creek inlets. Since these soils are periodically flooded and are wet most of the year, they provide excellent soils for wetland and wildlife habitat.
The Keuka Lake watershed is characterized by broad, straight U-shaped valleys with steep side slopes projecting upwards for several hundred feet and capped by rounded hilltops. Hillsides are severely dissected by steep valleys, with slopes often exceeding 45 degrees, particularly along the Bluff and western shore of Keuka Lake. The northern portion of the watershed has much lower elevations and slopes. Elevations increase from near 1,000 feet above mean sea level at Penn Yan and Branchport to almost 2,000 feet along the southern edge of the watershed. The mean elevation of Keuka Lake is 714 feet, but varies seasonally, from 712 to 714.5 feet.
The Keuka Lake watershed was settled by people almost as soon as the Ice Age ended, some 9,000 years ago. These first people survived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild food. Archaeological remains from the vicinity of Lamoka Lake reveal a diet consisting of deer, turkey, passenger pigeon, bear, turtle, bullhead and acorns. Farming first appeared in the area nine hundred years ago with the Owasco people, who brought the "Three Sisters" agriculture of interplanted corn, beans and squash.
In the late eighteenth century, followers of Jemima Wilkinson moved into the area and erected dams and mills on the Outlet. A second colony led by the Potter family built on Sugar Creek, north of the present site of Branchport.
Penn Yan incorporated as a village in 1833, and in the same year the Crooked Lake Canal opened, paralleling the Outlet. Agricultural produce of the area could be floated through its 28 locks to Seneca Lake and the Erie Canal system. In 1836, the first vineyards in the Keuka Lake watershed were planted in the Town of Pulteney. In 1837, the Keuka, the first steamboat, began hauling passengers and produce on Keuka Lake.
From 1840 until the turn of the century, the production of grapes, first for fresh eating and later for wineries, boomed. By 1900, more than 10,000 acres of vineyards ringed the lake. The height of agricultural production occurred before the turn of the century. Today, only about half as much land (approximately 34,300 acres) is worked.
While agriculture was declining, tourism and recreational uses of the lake increased. Development of the lakeshore began in the 1880s. Keuka College, the Keuka Lake Sanitarium, and other spas were established. Cottages and retirement homes sprang up around the lake.
After the turn-of-the-century, several industries grew up in the Keuka Lake Watershed, including Curtis Aircraft in Hammondsport (1910) and Penn Yan Boats (1921). Widespread ownership of automobiles and the growth of a modern road system accelerated development around the lake.
Today, most of the shoreline has been developed for cottages and second homes. Recent trends include development of steep or wet sites, conversion of summer homes to year-round use, demolition and rebuilding of structures, and development of woodland and lake-view parcels. The rate of development has been increased by the lake's proximity to urban centers. The result is an "urban corridor" surrounding the lake, with increasing development pressure on agricultural land.
Away from the lakeshore, 54 percent of the watershed land is covered with shrubs, early successional trees, and/or mature forests. Thirty-four percent of the watershed land is used for agriculture. Ten to fifteen percent of watershed land is in transition from agriculture to residential use. Three to five percent of the watershed is used for residential, commercial and industrial purposes.
At the time of settlement in the 1780s and 90s, the land was heavily forested. The original forests were principally sugar maple, beech, hickory, red and white oaks, tulip poplar, and black walnut, though many other hardwoods and softwoods were common.
The land began to be cleared in the 1790s. By the late 1880s, 85-90% of the land was cleared and farmed. No virgin timber or relic forests remain in the watershed. The forests that do remain consist of second and third-growth stands of the original species. Chestnut and elm have been lost to disease, but locust, pine and spruce have been added to the original forest species.
Since 1880, there has been a gradual abandonment of farmland and corresponding re-growth of wooded land. Since the abandoned lands were generally the least productive for agriculture, the woods on these lands are of very low quality. At present, about 54% of the watershed land is forested. Much of this woodland is in an early stage of succession: pines, poplar, red maple, hawthorn, pin cherry, and various dogwoods predominate. Forested areas in the watershed, particularly on steeper slopes, provide many water quality benefits, including stormwater retention and erosion and sediment control.
The watershed encompasses a wide variety of habitats supporting diverse wildlife communities. Habitats range from wetlands to large blocks of unbroken forests. Agricultural areas provide food sources for wildlife and the many transitional areas provide cover and nesting sites.
Area wildlife includes game species such as deer, turkey, pheasant, grouse, squirrel, rabbit, opossum, coyote and fox. Non-game species include song birds, hawks, owls and occasionally ospreys and even eagles. Wetland areas in the watershed support waterfowl, mink, muskrats, beaver and amphibians.
Well managed fish and wildlife populations provide residents and visitors with tremendous opportunities for nature study, hunting, fishing and trapping. Protecting our water resources helps to ensure that we will continue to enjoy healthy and dynamic wildlife populations.
Lake trout is the primary cold water game fish in Keuka Lake, supported entirely by natural reproduction. Rainbow trout, which reproduce naturally in Cold Brook, support stream and some lake fishing. Stocked domestic brown trout and Atlantic landlocked salmon add species diversity.
Important warm water species include smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bluegills, yellow perch, pickerel, and brown bullheads. Smelt and alewives are the primary forage fish. Lake whitefish and ciscoes are present, but very uncommon. Northern pike can also be found in limited numbers.
The lake provides excellent smallmouth bass fishing. The gravelly bottom found in many areas of the lake provides an essential element for spawning smallmouths and lake trout. Largemouth bass and chain pickerel are found in good numbers at both the north and south ends of Keuka. Rooted aquatic plants there provide excellent habitat for these fish.
Parts of ten municipalities and two counties lie within the Keuka Lake watershed. The municipalities with the largest land areas within the watershed include Jerusalem (31%), Milo (6%), Barrington (9%), Wayne (7%), Urbana (20%) and Pulteney (16%).
POPULATION AND HOUSING
Of the ten municipalities in the watershed, eight have lake frontage. The primary municipalities had a total 1990 population of approximately 21,000. The estimated population actually residing within the watershed itself was 17,878, a 16.75 percent increase since 1970. There are an estimated 6,300 housing units in the watershed, based on the 1990 tax roles.
Paul Eberts' 1994 report, Socioeconomic Trends in Rural New York State, describes Yates County as a smaller than average rural-suburban county. It has a small but stable manufacturing base employing 17% of the 1990 work force. A large service sector employs 72.4% of all workers. Yate's agricultural base is also large compared with other counties, producing $29 million in total sales in 1990. Forty percent of workers commute to jobs outside the county, many to the highly industrialized Rochester metropolitan area.
Steuben County is slightly above average size for a rural-urban county. Its manufacturing base of 27.2% is large but declining slightly. The service sector employed 68.2% of the 1990 work force. The agricultural base is much larger than average, with $73.6 million in products sold in 1987. Only 17.6% of workers commutes to jobs outside the county.
MUNICIPAL WATER REVENUES
Over 20,000 people rely on Keuka Lake as a source of potable drinking water. Approximately 10,000 people draw water directly from the lake for domestic use. The remaining 10,000 people purchase water from municipalities in the watershed, generating an estimated $750,000 in annual water revenues for the villages of Hammondsport, Penn Yan, Keuka Park and Dresden.
The recreational value of Keuka Lake and its watershed cannot be measured directly. However, the Finger Lakes Association has estimated that in 1987 tourism and recreation revenues in Steuben County totaled $59 million. The Yates County Chamber of Commerce estimated in 1996 that $14 million was spent on tourism and recreation in Yates County. These amounts do not include the "multiplier effect" created when these dollars are spent three to four times over in the community. For 1996, the Finger Lakes Association conservatively estimated the value of tourism and recreation just within the watershed itself at $15 million.
Many of these recreation dollars are spent on fishing. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation estimated in 1988 that the value of fishing on Keuka Lake was over $5 million. At three percent growth per year, the 1997 value would be worth $6.7 million.