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Watersheds ahead: Officials hope new road signs make environmental sense

Taking care of the Great Lakes means more than watching out for lake water and shorelines.

What happens on the onion fields in Elba, cornfields in Eden, the Erie Canal in Lockport and even the Youngmann Highway in Amherst affects the health of lakes Erie and Ontario. What residents spray on their lawns from Ripley to Rochester also matters.

So signs are being installed marking designated Great Lakes watersheds.

“It’s an opportunity to remind people that we all have a responsibility to protect watersheds,” said Judith A. Enck, an EPA regional administrator. “Everything you put in the ground will eventually wind up in the Great Lakes.”

Fifteen signs are being installed across upstate New York identifying entrances to Great Lakes watersheds.

One place is on the New York State Thruway near Batavia. Signs stating “Entering Lake Erie Watershed” will be visible to westbound motorists and “Entering Lake Ontario Watershed” will be visible to eastbound traffic.

The signs are part of a $15,000 program funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in conjunction with the EPA, state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Department of Transportation and Thruway Authority.

“The real purpose is to remind people they are entering one of the unique areas of New York State – the Great Lakes region,” said Don Zelazny, the Great Lakes program coordinator for the state DEC. “They’re so valuable to us, in every way of life.”

Officials consider the project “a public education opportunity.”

They hope residents and farmers think twice before applying lawn or garden fertilizers and pesticides, which contribute nutrients or chemicals to area creeks and streams. The small waterways connect to the Great Lakes and can spawn and feed algal blooms and harm water quality in other ways.

Officials point out the signs are also reminders to public officials – highway operators who salt roads, wastewater plant operators who manage sewage operations and lawmakers who write policy – that their actions have consequences in the watershed.

Crews erected the first signs in December. By July, all of the signs are expected to be in place along highways across the region.

Others might also be installed along other roads, environmental officials said.