All posts by Senecayuga Properties Owner

The Magic of Water

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo


Water is a polar molecule. It has a partially negative pole at the oxygen end, and two partially positive poles at each of the hydrogen ends. This polarity of the water molecule is caused by the unequal sharing of electrons between the atoms, oxygen getting the best of it. It is for this reason that ionic substances such as table salt, phosphates, and nitrates as well slightly polarized materials like sugar and alcohol will dissolve in water.

The resulting attraction between the oppositely charged ends of the water molecules allows this substance to exist as a liquid at temperate atmospheric conditions even though this molecule is much lighter (H2O,18 amu’s) than temparate gases like carbon dioxide (CO2, 44 amu’s)* and sulfur dioxide (SO2, 64 amu’s). The extra, inter-molecular attraction of water molecules is also responsible for the extra energy required to change the phase of the water from solid to liquid (40 cal/g) and from liquid to gas (240 cal/g). In the first instance, ice to liquid, the crystal lattice mus be broken. In the second, liquid to steam, the molecules must be separated to a greater distance, using more energy to break the intermolecular attraction.

There is, however, a more interesting quality of this unusual, earthly substance. Nearness to trickling streams, rivers, lakes, and especially waterfalls is naturally magical to humans and probably other animals. This is because H2O, particularly when moving, creates a type of harmless electromagnetic radiation known as “negative ions” or an “ionization” of the air in the immediate vicinity of this liquid. The presence of these infinitely tiny, charged particles in the air around water invokes an uplifting sensation lending to a sense of well-being.. An additional benefit and most significant benefit is that these ions cleanse the air of positively charged particles including harmful bacteria, viruses, allergens, and spores.

So, besides covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface, being essential for life, constituting 70% of your body mass, and being a unique material in itself, water is a magical substance that makes you feel good, by just hanging out with it.

*Amu = atomic mass unit


Some Idyllic Falls from Around the Finger Lakes:

Photos courtesy of

Protect Our Lakes!

MelRussoby Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Recently, much discussion has been circulating regarding LP gas (liquified petroleum gas or propane) storage in the salt caverns along the shores of Seneca Lake. Any attempt to originate such an endeavor could spell a very serious perpetual threat to Seneca Lake’s ecology. Already levels of dissolved solids in the lake are at the edge of tolerance for many fresh water organisms. I recall in the 70’s, while out on a lake research vessel, we found some Seneca Lake protozoans (single celled animals) near the Himrod area as resembling salt water species in their management of osmotic pressure. This was due, we assumed, to the high saline content of the water outside their cells.

Some aquatic organisms like the invasive round goby and their invasive predecessor, the zebra mussel, can tolerate high salt concentrations. Others, such as the members of the, catfish family, perch family, sunfish family (includes smallmouth, largemouth bass), some trout species, and the pike family are not highly salt tolerant. Whole changes in Finger Lakes ecosystems and food chains can result from the slightest of accidents, incidents, or infractions involving these mines.

OK. So you don’t care about fish, ecosystems and the drinking water for many thousands of people. You can still enjoy viewing the lake as well as boating, and swimming while it is high in dissolved solids. Therefore you may say, we should still allow LP gas storage because it can support up to 10 jobs (woop-de-doo!). Then consider this: Finger Lakes tourism creates revenues of over 2.8 billion dollars per year while also supporting 59,000 jobs. Seneca Lake comprises about 32% of the total Finger Lakes by surface area; so, theoretically, this lake may generate nearly 0.9 billion U.S. dollars in and of itself. Further, contaminants from a Seneca Lake accident can trickle down through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal to Cayuga Lake and onward to the Oswego River eventually to Lake Ontario. Everyone should be concerned about the slightest possibility of seriously upsetting a 10,000 year old, relatively pristine ecosystem.

Another huge factor to consider with lake contamination is the real property tax base. As an example, Seneca County alone, has a full market value (based on 2014 average sale) of over $600,000,000 (six hundred million). For the town of Varick in that county, the lakefront real estate constitutes over 80% of the taxable real estate assessment there. All of the lakefront towns in the Finger Lakes contain billions of dollars of assessed value generating millions of dollars of tax revenues supporting schools, fire departments, infrastructure, and governments. With water contamination, the assessments of waterfront properties would fall drastically because of decrease in demand resulting in property values dropping precipitously. Who will then provide the majority of local support for schools, government and infrastructure then?

Now, think about the recent environmental accident involving millions of gallons of serious contaminants released to the Animas River in Colorado and its rippling consequences to the environment, economy, and society. For the Seneca Lake area and ANY of the Finger Lakes region, accepting and allowing any endeavor which could have the least bit of a possibility for an environmental accident is what we call a “no brainer.” As responsible citizens of the Finger Lakes, it is our duty to review, monitor, and oppose all new and existing risks to our lakes not only to protect the ecosystems and the pleasure resource they provide, but also to maintain the billions of beneficial dollars generated by these upstate wonders. Encourage your representatives and influential groups to be resolute and emphatic in opposing LP gas storage near Seneca.

© Mel Russo 2015 All Rights Reserved

Seneca County Chamber of Commerce September 2015 mailing
Seneca County Real Property Tax Office, 2015
Senecayuga Properties, LLC 2014 Newsletter

Frontenac Island – The Original Allure of the Finger Lakes Region

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Today, people come to the Finger Lakes area to gaze at its unequivocal, scenic beauty and its wealth of both civilized and natural history. In addition, they come for a pleasing retirement, vacation, and perhaps for regional employment – sometimes locally – and often people working in different directions at one of several cities within an hour or so. In the Finger Lakes area, there is exists the unique opportunity to live ‘on vacation’ when just visiting or more simply, coming home from work.

This was not always the case, however. For no pre-determined reason, other than the random discovery of an abundance of food sources, people settled here more than 5000 years ago. One theory puts the initial intercontinental immigration starting possibly up to sixty thousand years ago, when several different bands of early humans crossed the Bering Strait over dry land or ice from northeast Asia and/or northern Japan to Alaska. Another has stone age Europeans crossing the northern Atlantic about 20,000 years ago. In any event, the initial migration would have taken place during the most recent ice age, when much of the fresh water of the northern hemisphere was spread over more than half of the continent as part of the last glacier. It is thought that the stalking of various proboscidians, like the mammoths and the mastodons led the early peoples to the new continent. Thousands of years later and after the invention of fluted spear points then unique to North America, some of the various bands of people ended up in what is now New York State. This new arrival of primitive people to New York was facilitated by the recession of the glacier and Lake Iroquois, an over-sized Lake Ontario that extended into the lowly elevated Cayuga Lake Basin. This giant lake persisted for several thousand years until about 8000 years ago when the arctic ice caps began reconstituting, opening up more rich, dry land around the Great Lakes for habitation by terrestrial life. This new, dry land included Frontenac Island.

About 5500 years ago (3500 BC), one of the bands of wandering people settled in the Lamoka/Waneta Lake area (Lamoka people), between the south ends of Keuka and Seneca Lakes. About 1500 years later (2000 BC) a different group settled at the foot of Oneida Lake and on the Oneida River. This group was known as the Brewerton people. There was also a Geneva site (2400 BC) but much of its documentabale history was lost in early road excavations. Sometime within these eras, however, a third group settled on Frontenac Island (3000 BC), a limestone base island at the northeast end of Cayuga Lake. Each of these sites was lush with fish and game, as it is today, for these early New Yorkers. On Frontenac, the people savored bullheads, perch, sunfish types, and pike while feasting on their main staple, the white tail deer from the mainland. Other foods of significance included bear, elk, squirrel, turtles, woodchucks, raccoon, turkey, and passenger pigeons (now extinct).

Through detailed analysis of the artifacts found on the island, it was determined that the ancient, tiny Frontenac population had assimilated the culture and individuals from both the Brewerton people and the Lamokans. Several tools, traditions and cranial types were the same as found in the other sites. Other items appeared for the first time in New York State history on Frontenac Island.

From further analysis of skeletons and especially skulls that were exhumed at the three New York prehistoric locations, it was determined that each ancient site had its own, characteristic, differentiated form of human. However, hybrids with the islanders and those from the two other sites were found for the first time, right here on this small island in Cayuga Lake.

It appears that at a later date in their existence, these advanced stone-age Cayuga County people were peacefully and commercially interacting with the other groups of the greater region. At other times in the human habitation history of Frontenac, however, it was certain that warfare played a role in assimilating the individuals, tools, and customs of other groups into the camp. Some items excavated came from as far away as Lake Superior, some 500 miles away.

The islanders kept a bald eagle, presumably used for hunting. Dogs were also used in hunting. Remains of a terrier sized dog found were similar to those dogs found at the Lamoka site. However, again, for the first time in New York State history, a larger, collie sized dog was found among the Frontenac people remains. The Fronteac canines were occasionally buried with humans but some of the dogs had their own, special grave site with obvious devotion and respect for the animals.

Indeed, life on Frontenac Island must have been somewhat adventuresome in 3000 BC. Individuals were found buried with broken limbs, head trauma, and spear points embedded in their skeletons. It is intriguing to think that while the ancient Egyptians were building pyramids, raising wheat, and sheep, using metals, writing hieroglyphics and rolling things around on wheels, the people on Frontenac Island in Cayuga Lake were having a big time hunting, fishing, gathering, fighting, dragging things around, using stones and bones for tools, assimilating, and eventually socializing in a pleasant place still visible in Cayuga Lake. The peaceful magnetism of the area continues today.

In 1859, nearly one third of the island was removed for use as an embankment for the nearby New York Central Railroad along the east shore of the lake without regard for artifacts. In the mid 20th Century, the island was scientifically excavated for study and display by the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences.

Source: Ritchie (1965)

What is a “Bloom” on Our Finger Lakes?

MelRussoBy Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Recently, much news has surfaced (no pun intended) about blooms on Seneca Lake. There are usually blooms on both Seneca and Cayuga Lake each summer. A “bloom” is a visible manifestation of algae. Usually the algae are microscopic and commonly present in water but become obvious to the naked eye when they multiply exponentially. This mega-population explosion of phytoplankton is due to the presence of excessive dissolved nutrients in the water such as phosphates and nitrates, essential ingredients for plant growth. This aquatic event occurs in the upper layers of water where the temperature warms greatly due to atmospheric conditions and the stillness of the water. The increased heat in these waters causes the life activities there to accelerate. A rule of limnology is that for every 10 degrees Celsius increase in temperature, the metabolic activity of life in the water doubles.

Blooms are normal phenomena of lakes.

This metabolic multiplication factor combined with increased solubility of nutrients with increase in temperature, is the initiating cause of blooms. Often these events are usually accompanied by zooplankton blooms and biotic growth of all types. The common form of algae associated with these events is a type called anabaena. Another is nostoc. Both are single celled blue-green algae (now called cyanobacteria) but can form necklace like chains, which are noticeably visible with the naked eye. Although commonly occurring in aquatic environments, when present in the great numbers characteristic of a bloom, these algae add toxicity to water. Swimming in, washing with, or drinking the water under bloom conditions may result in nausea, vomiting, dermatitis, blindness or other serious complications.

Blooms are normal phenomena of lakes. If they are frequent and of very long duration, it is a negative health indicator of a lake. Some blooms are usual and normal for a body of water. However, very many blooms, for very long, is a sign of increasing eutrophication (aging) of a lake.

So, no, the lake is not turning over. No, the lake is not cleaning itself, per say, but in a way it is. And no, it is not lots of pollen on the surface. It is a normal event, one of which we should be aware and monitor. With the mixing and cooling of the surface waters, the bloom will diminish leaving normal populations of microscopic algae in the water until we have a another heat wave with long days, at which time the bloom is bound to return.

Cayuga Lake

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Cayuga Lake is located in the center of the eleven Finger Lakes of upstate New York. It is 40 miles long and has a maximum width of 3.5 miles. Because of the pronounced difference between the maximum depths of the northern 5 miles of the lake and the rest of the lake, the 70+ square mile body of nice, clean water is like having two lakes in one.

The north end of the lake ranges from 1 to 12 feet in depth with an average of about 5 feet in the area of Cayuga Lake State Park. The lake bottom here is soft and because of the lack of great depths, there is a significant amount of emergent and submerged vegetation. Fisherman take advantage of this habitat because it is famous for supporting high populations of largemouth bass. Crappie, northern pike, pickerel, perch, and bullhead also abound here. In addition duck hunters and bird enthusiasts take delight in the abundance of waterfowl that utilize this habitat.

With the advent of the weed harvester, pleasure boating has increased in this area of the lake. Furthermore, the water here warms up more quickly in spring, providing for early swimming and other water sports. In winter, the area freezes almost every winter to provide for fantastic ice fishing, skating and ski sports. Wet docking of boats is also possible since the lake does not get too rough in this area.

The added advantage of this end of the lake is the relative availability of services such as municipal sewer, gas and water as well as the other amenities of groceries, gasoline, and the general gregarious congenialities associated with civilization. Often, even though the situation has improved tremendously in recent times, Cayuga Lake has been totally characterized by its north end and weeds by out of town journalists attempting to describe the lake. However, as one proceeds south from the Canoga area, there is a gradual increase in depth to the abysmal regions of the lake. At Red Jacket Yacht Club, the depth reaches about 28 feet allowing for smooth sailing. From here south, troublesome weeds have not been a problem. This is due to the great pressure of the water above as well as vigorous wave action against the shallows in the great expanses of the lake.

Gradually continuing south, the lake gets deeper and deeper until maximum depths are attained at Sheldrake and Taughannoch State Park. Here, the greatest fathoms approach the 450 foot mark. In this region are found some of the most pristine, unencumbered waters of the Finger Lakes area. The profundal regions of the lake continue until about a mile north of Ithaca.

Trout, salmon, and smallmouth bass, fish which typically indicate a high water quality, are found in significant numbers in much of the lake south of Canoga. Also, boating of all types is possible in this area because of the unobstructed deep and wide expanses of the lake. In addition, the lake rarely freezes south of Burrough’s Point. The interaction between the great depths and the broad, open water, prevents the lake from freezing over completely. Wells College supposedly has the day off whenever Cayuga Lake freezes over. This allegedly happened in 1912 when two people decided to take advantage and attempted to skate from Ithaca to Seneca Falls. The two drowned somewhere near Long Point on their way.

For the best sailing, wind surfing, water skiing, and pleasure boating, and just looking, it’s tough to beat Cayuga Lake. The next time you watch “The Twilight Zone” look for Cayuga Lake in the credits. Rod Serling did much of his creations from the shores of Cayuga Lake near Kidders Landing in the Sheldrake area. The Senecayuga Chronicles and Tales from the Littoral Zone also originate from the inspirational shores of Cayuga Lake.

Will Our Lakes Freeze Over Completely?

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

When the temperature gets this cold for several weeks, there is always talk of Seneca and/or Cayuga Lake freezing over completely. Old timers talk of car races on the ice of the lakes from Geneva to Watkins, and from Seneca Falls to Ithaca. Yet, it is very rare for this to happen in these modern times. The rarity of a total Lake freeze-over is due to the interaction of four physical factors associated with the lakes: their great depths, their extensive surface area, the frequent Finger Lakes winds, and industrial heat discharge.

In the fall, when surface water temperatures start to cool, the surface waters get heavier and they sink. This factor coupled with vigorous wind action, causes a mixing of the waters until there is nearly a uniform temperature from the surface to bottom of the lake. Eventually this temperature of the lakes will become 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit. When water gets colder than this, it becomes lighter and remains near the surface. The water may eventually reach its least density of 32 degrees. At this temperature water becomes ice/slush and this material is light and floats, thereby allowing lakes to freeze from the top down.

In wintertime on Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, the wind normally mixes the cooler surface waters with the warmer deeper waters resulting in heat transfer to the upper layers of water. Therefore, the lakes rarely freeze over completely, except where it is constantly shallow. In addition, power plants, and now chilling plants, as well as other industries are constantly removing the cool, 39.2 degree water and discharging much warmer water at the surface. This warm water discharge adds significant heat to the lakes and inevitably maintains a certain area of unnatural, open water. I’m afraid that the “old timer” reports of the lakes freezing over are gone forever. However, if we get a short period of calm, together with extremely cold temperatures we sometimes experience, you may be able to tell of the legendary year when the lake froze over all the way!

PS: Freezing and thawing are very healthy for a body of what, especially like those of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes with a huge supersaturated reserve oxygen supply. Thawing in late winter/early spring allows the lakes to warm up eighty times more slowly, for awhile, due to the heat of fusion of water. This slows the growth of algae thereby helping to maintain the geological youth and water quality of a lake.

The High Level Finger Lakes

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Following and during the recession of the last glacier over 10,000 years ago, the level of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes was much higher than their present elevation. Blocked by the protruding tongues o£ ice into the Seneca and Cayuga River valleys, the water could not outlet to the north as it does now. The lakes overflowed at some 900+ feet elevation into the Susquehanna River system to the south.

Finger Lakes estate REALLY took a dive during this period!

There is substantial evidence of at least seven different prolonged lake levels, all much higher than present. The water levels were so high that there was no land exposed as far south as Ovid, N.Y.

While doing excavations along the slopes of the uplands one may encounter layers of sand many feet thick between the strata of clay and glacial till. Often the sand outcrops to the surface. These sand layers are the remnants of the ancient shorelines of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.

Along the northern reaches of the Finger Lakes the sand layers are so thick that the sand is mined commercially. These substantial sand pits arc remnants of the shores of post glacial Lake Iroquios (now Lake Ontario) which extended its sand dunes well into the northern New York townships for many centuries.


Fig.1 Diagrammatic summary of the Postglacial history of the Great Lakes showing the many available water routes to other drainages. Several of these waterways to the West, South and East were avenues of entry and dispersal for fish during and after recession of ice from the region. Outlets during Glacial times are underscored; general locations of Glacial lake stages are indicated by arrows.  The outlets were never all co-existent and the maximum extent of the lakes as shown was never attained simultaneously in all parts of the basin.

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

A unique feature of Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake is the splendid canal which connects the two largest Finger Lakes. This amazing engineering feat not only links the two lakes to each other, but also allows access to the rest of the world’s waterways. To do this, a boat on Seneca Lake needs only to descend approximately 25 feet through the locks in Waterloo, then about 50 feet through two more consecutive lock systems in Seneca Falls.  The canal eventually outlets at the north end of Cayuga Lake. From there, a boat may enter the Barge Canal system by descending 11 feet at “Mud Locks” at the head of Montezuma Wildlife Refuge into the Oswego River system, to Lake Ontario, and so forth.

Prior to the building of this original part of the Barge (Erie) Canal System in 1829, there was a natural waterway between the two lakes described by early settlers as a “babbling brook.” Early explorers, as late as the eighteenth century, record that the babbling brook was overflowing with the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), originally a native of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes and their tributary streams, as well as Oneida Lake and its tributaries. Writings of early inhabitants of the Finger Lakes area report that the salmon were so plentiful that they could fill a boat in a short time by simply clubbing the fish with their paddles. The original stock population of this species was able to ascend the Oswego River system and go as far west as Seneca Lake.  The canal and the many mills constructed along the river put an abrupt end to the copious and natural reproduction of salmon in our area.

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal was re-structured in 1915, leaving the remnants of the old canal bed which can still be observed in the proximity of the banks of the existing canal. From an ecological standpoint, the canal systems spelled disaster for the existing ecosystems, which had developed over thousands of years in Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake and their associated watersheds.

The canal and locks allowed for the invasion of the lakes of the more quiet water fish which caused the disruption of a 10,000 year old ecosystem. Nevertheless, much natural life continues to thrive in the Finger Lakes area; and it’s a great place to live, so buy some real estate from Senecayuga Properties.

About Seneca Lake


By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

lake_senecaSeneca lake is located in the geographic center of the eleven Finger Lakes and it is the deepest of the group. Moreover, it is exceedingly deep throughout much of its 70 square mile expanse. The depth goes beyond the 400 foot mark in many locations. In addition, there is more than 500 feet of sediment below the deepest mark (650′) which puts the original bottom more than 1200 feet below the present surface around 10,000 years ago.

Reports that the bottom of Seneca Lake has never been found are not valid. Furthermore, there is no evidence of the alleged underground passageways that supposedly allow drowning victims of Seneca to mysteriously appear in Cayuga.

Seneca Lake has nearly double the volume of water found in Cayuga Lake even though each has approximately the same surface area. Because of this dilution factor and the lack of significant urban populations around its shores, the water quality of Seneca lake is among the best in the world.

Seneca Lake is famous for its support of a copious lake trout population. A record New York State lunker caught in the 1950’s as reported in the old Genesee Fishing Contest, was more than 32 pounds! Furthermore, the lake and its tributaries carry significant populations of rainbow trout and other salmonids. These species reflect the high quality water that is characteristic of this lake.

Besides a good spectrum of commonly known fish – bass, pike, perch, and sunnies, Seneca Lake has its own special variety or subspecies of whitefish called the Seneca Lake Cisco. This is the result of many thousands of years of isolation from the main, continuous population of ciscoes in Lakes Ontario and Erie.

Another interesting tidbit about Seneca Lake is that the rainbow smelt was not found in this lake until the 1970’s. Formerly, smelt were found only in Cayuga Lake. However, the existence of significant populations of the species in both lakes is questionable at this time.

Regardless, for some of the best swimming, sailing, boating of all types, fishing, and just plain old lookin’ at the lake, you can’t beat the magnificent grandeur of Seneca Lake.


Putting it All Into Perspective

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

Some of us like to think that we live around the best, or maybe the biggest, or perhaps the deepest, or possibly the longest lake. Sometimes when we think we’re in the superlative, it’s good to review the statistics and put everything back into perspective.

There are eleven Finger Lakes in all. These ore listed, from west to east, in the table below.  Seneca is the deepest (650′) and Cayuga is the longest (40 miles). As we review the data on these two “giant” bodies of water as compared to the rest of the Finger Lakes, we can sense a feeling or pride since we do live near the longest, the deepest and the biggest Finger Lakes.

One should wonder why the most expensive properties are not located on the deepest, largest and least crowded of the Finger Lakes. In contrast, Canandaigua, Skaneateles, and Keuka seem to carry the highest priced properties per unit of front foot. Even though they are merely pint sized lakes compared to Seneca and Cayuga. Moreover, Seneca and Cayuga are the only Finger Lakes that offer navigable access to the barge canal system.

Conversely, when compared to the Great Lakes, even the largest of the Finger Lakes is dwarfed. The Great Lakes are the greatest contiguous mass of fresh water in the world.


Lake Name Max Depth Length Max Width Surface Area* Surface Elevation
feet miles miles square miles feet above
sea level
Finger Lakes
Conesius 59 7.8 0.8 5.6 818
Hemlock 96 7.3 0.5 3.2 905
Canadice 91 3.2 0.5 1.3 1,099
Honeoye 35 4.1 0.8 3.5 818
Canadaigua 273 17.6 1.5 17.6 687
Keuka 186 19.6 2.2 22.3 709
Seneca 650 34.5 3.2 73.9 444
Cayuga 435 40.0 3.5 76.4 384
Owasco 177 11.1 1.3 10.0 710
Skaneateles 287 15.1 1.4 14.0 867
Otisco 66 5.4 0.8 3.8 784
Great Lakes
Superior 1,333 350 160 31,820 602
Huron 750 206 152 23,010 580
Michigan 924 307 117 22,400 580
Erie 210 241 57 9,930 572
Ontario 778 193 53 7,540 246

* Some of the data here are calculated estimates.