Oneida Lake Education Initiative

"Your gateway to understanding Oneida Lake"


Oneida Lake is a remnant of Lake Iroquois, a large body of water that formed nearly 12,000 years ago as glaciers from the last ice age receded and dammed the St. Lawrence River. Lake Iroquois covered much of central New York, including present day Lake Ontario and Oneida Lake. As temperatures warmed, the St. Lawrence outlet to the ocean opened, and most of the waters of Lake Iroquois drained. Water captured in a glacial depression became today’s Oneida Lake.


The Oneida Lake watershed, the area of land from which water drains into the lake, encompasses over 800,000 acres. Around seventy percent of the water that flows into the lake comes from the Tug Hill uplands to the north. This part of the watershed is heavily forested, and its waters are low in productivity. About eighty percent of the nutrients flow in from the more fertile agricultural lands to the south. Nutrients, phosphorus in particular, are utilized by algae and other plants, which in turn provide energy that radiates throughout the food web.


Soil transport from the watershed to the lake is a natural process. However, excessive erosion is an environmental concern. Agricultural lands and urban areas have a greater potential to deliver both nutrients and soils to the lake than do forested areas. For example Oneida Creek, a southern tributary, contributes waters much richer in sediment than does Fish Creek, which drains lands to the north.


Water carries sediments, and when excessive loads of sediments are deposited, they can smother organisms on the lake bottom. Heavy sediment loads also contribute to the formation of low oxygen zones and destroy spawning habitat for fish. Sedimentation in Oneida Lake has increased since the 1970s and has been associated with tributary flows, flooding, and shoreline erosion related to low water levels.




To learn more about the Oneida Lake Watershed...

Oneida Lake Watershed Management Program

Oneida Lake Education Initiative Information Homepage