Chautauqua Lake routinely experiences annual outbreaks of nuisance weeds and algae blooms, especially during the warm summer months. Due to a mild winter and unseasonably warm spring, this year's outbreaks may occur earlier and last longer than usual. These growing impairments lower property values, frustrate recreationists, reduce tourism, threaten the natural ecosystem, and undermine our local economy.
Now is the time for all of us to take appropriate steps to promote the lake's healthy recovery. Here is a brief description of the path we have undertaken:
In response to declining lake conditions, the County Legislature formed the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission to create, implement and monitor a comprehensive lake and watershed management plan. The commission is a collaborative partnership of volunteers from 11 member organizations dedicated to protecting the health, ecology, and enjoyment of Chautauqua Lake and its watershed for future generations.
Past studies taught us that Chautauqua Lake is impaired by excessive nutrients and sedimentation that flow into the lake from the surrounding watershed. The nutrients provide a fertile habitat for the aquatic plants and algae to flourish, while the accumulating sediments lead to shallower waters.
Reducing this inflow of pollutants is essential to cleaning up the lake, and is the primary objective of the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan. In fact, it is the only viable solution to the problem. We are now implementing recommendations under the watershed plan to reduce water pollution.
Our collective frustration over the existing conditions in the lake have manifest in a universal call for action. While the natural tendency is to seek immediate relief through in-lake treatments, there is no instant cure or easy fix to these problems. In-lake treatments are expensive, highly regulated, and address only the symptoms - not the causes - of a sick lake.
Despite these challenges, we are developing an in-lake plan to specifically control nuisance weeds and algae employing appropriate biological, chemical, mechanical, and physical methods. Plan development will be expedited by incorporating - not repeating - past studies. All available resources have been pledged to complete this essential project.
A simple analogy will illustrate why we must employ this dual approach to properly manage our lake. Imagine that a hole in your roof is allowing rain to infiltrate your house, thereby damaging your flooring. The unsightly mess might prompt you to immediately hire a carpenter to replace the buckling floor. But if you fail to also repair the roof, the damage will simply return upon the next rainfall, and the cycle will continue.
The same is true for Chautauqua Lake. Until we repair the "hole" in our watershed that allows excessive nutrients and sedimentation to infiltrate the lake, the nuisance weeds and algae will flourish indefinitely.
Despite our best intentions, employing in-lake treatments will only provide seasonal, short-term relief. Worse yet, eliminating one species of aquatic plants from the ecosystem without reducing the flow of nutrients into the lake simply leaves more food for algae and other plants to proliferate. For example, when Eurasion Water Milfoil in Burtis Bay was decimated by voracious herbivores, the equally offensive Elodea began to flourish in the rich supply of nutrients. Swapping one species of nuisance weeds for another is no solution.
The Lake Management Commission is collaborating with county, town, and village officials developing local laws to reduce stormwater runoff and soil erosion. We are actively working with property owners implementing simple changes in their homes and lawns that will reduce water pollution, and are distributing a homeowner's repair manual for Chautauqua Lake outlining dozens of important recommendations.
We are also collaborating with tourists and visitors to stem the spread of invasive species, and are distributing a visitors guide to Chautauqua Lake advocating good stewardship of our natural resources.
We will continue to raise awareness of important lake and watershed issues through public addresses, publications, and future articles, and invite you to join our efforts to preserve Chautauqua Lake for future generations.
Jeff Diers is Chautauqua County Watershed coordinator. Lyle Hajdu is chair of the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission.