Despite efforts to keep Chautauqua Lake clean, many think more needs to be done in order to keep tourists drawn to the waterbody.
"I can tell you firsthand, the weeds are actually horrible," said Capt. Mathew Stage, who runs the Chautauqua Belle on the lake daily.
"It's worse ten-fold," he said about the weed problem in the lake compared to previous years. "I feel really bad," he said about attempts being made by the Chautauqua Lake Association to pull out weeds "by the truck-load."
A boat floats on Chautauqua Lake as some of the weeds sit near the lake’s surface in the foreground.
P-J photo by Alex Speer
He said his worry is that the lake generates tax revenues for the county from tourists coming to enjoy it. He therefore questions why more county money is not being put back into maintaining the lake.
Stage said tourism is one of "the few things left in our county" that employs people, adding more should be spent to insure the lake continues to draw tourists.
"It's being destroyed," he said, questioning why more do not care enough about that.
Randy Graham, president of the Chautauqua Lake Association, said lake conditions vary, depending on where one is on the lake.
He said weeds "take off all over" late in the season.
"There's only so much you can do," he said, adding funding cuts to the body have had some impact.
Graham said the reality is that weeds seem to "get heavy all at once" no matter how much is spent. Although some look at using herbicides as a way to prevent weeds, he does not think this is possible in the lake. He said some water is used for residents of Chautauqua Institution. Putting herbicides in that portion, he said, is therefore not allowed. In order to get a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit to spray the lake, he said studies costing several hundreds of thousands of dollars would be necessary and millions would then be needed to spray the 13,000 acres of lake as herbicide costs are about $1,000 per acre.
The question of whether that would be money well spent remains since herbicides could not be used until after spawning season in late June. The earliest spraying possible, he said, would be after July 4. Herbicides then take weeks to work. Herbicides also target certain species, which, he said are not currently in Chautauqua Lake as Elodea and Curly Leaf Pond Weed have been identified recently as the major problems.
"Practical aspects overwhelm the ability to do anything with herbicides," he said.
Despite that, concerns remain.
Lou Clementi, owner of Chautauqua Marina in Mayville, said weed and algae remain an issue.
"It's something the county needs to address," he said, adding without doing so tourism will be lost, as will those living along what he called "the lifeblood of Chautauqua."
"It's definitely weedy," said a representative of the Village Casino in Bemus Point, who did not wish to be identified. "It's pretty bad out there," she said, adding if one looks out on the lake, it is not clear. "You can just see weeds," she said, adding she has heard concerns about bacteria in the lake.
The Chautauqua County Health Department issued a swimming advisory in July for areas of the lake and other lakes, where algae blooms occurred.
"Eastern shores of Chautauqua Lake in both the north and south basins are experiencing blue-green algae blooms that may pose a risk to swimmers," reads a statement from the department.
The algae decreases water clarity, which creates dangerous swimming, and certain types of blue-green algae release a toxin that can be harmful to humans and animals if ingested. Samples of lake water will be submitted to state Department of Health laboratories to determine if they contain dangerous levels of microscystis toxins, which are naturally found in low concentrations.
Health officials recommend limiting exposure to water with algae blooms, not allowing children or pets to play in water where there is a bloom, washing hands and bodies thoroughly if exposed and anytime after swimming or recreating in the lake.
Despite the concerns by some, others report the lake seems good, including Bonnie at the Docks Restaurant in Mayville.
Brad Whitcomb, Allegany regional director for the state office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said precautions have been taken at area state parks, but the algae bloom has not impacted recreation.
"I think everybody in the area is looking out for it," he said, adding people just have to be aware the bloom is there.
He remains hopeful a change in weather will help improve weed conditions and the bloom, adding rain will get the water moving and replenish it for the remainder of the season.
John Jablonski of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy agrees weather has played a part in some of the lake's issues. He said rains followed by hot and sunny weather provided energy resulting in weeds that are more dense than in past years. He said controlling nutrients by minimizing fertilizer use and not using fertilizer with phosphorous is suggested, as is planting vegetation to filter sediment and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.
Jeffrey Diers, watershed coordinator for the county, said he is deeply concerned about the lake. He said a management plan has been created, listing recommendations to better manage the watershed including erosion control and buffer strips. He said the county and 14 municipalities around the watershed are working together to address lake needs, adding he is also looking for funding sources to manage vegetation in the lake.
"We are trying our best in these tough economic times to address the lake concerns," he said.