Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms and green filamentous algae (the troublesome green "cotton candy" that clings on rocks, docks and plants at many locations in Chautauqua Lake) are strong indications of pollution from excessive loading of the nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen, to the lake.
The bad news is that these blooms seems to be getting worse, which is an indication that more and more pollution is being generated from land uses in the watershed and reaching the lake. The good news, however, is that research at Conesus Lake led by SUNY Brockport, including Dr. Joseph Makarewicz and others, has shown that implementing effective best farm management practices through the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) Program can have a measurable impact on lake filamentous algae blooms.
Dr. Makarewicz, at the Unifying Economic Development and the Environment Conference in Pittsford, N.Y., on Sept. 27, 2007, reported the positive results of a small watershed approach to this problem on a tributary to Conesus Lake. He stated, "We applied a full court press to address the agricultural sources of pollution in this stream watershed." Using best farm management practices such as terracing of fields, fertilization reduction, and manure injection technology, the farming community, with the assistance of Extension and USDA, were able to substantially reduce phosphorus and reduce nitrate inputs in the watershed by two-thirds. The results of this were measurable substantial improvements in water quality, and complete elimination of "metaphyton" cotton candy filamentous algae in the bay receiving the inflow from this tributary. These actions also reduced the mass of Eurasian watermilfoil at some locations. The scientific research associated with these Conesus lake pollution control activities is found in the Supplement to the Journal of Great Lakes Research, Volume 35, Supplement 1, 2009, and is available for viewing at the CWC office. Studies in the Midwest have shown positive improvement in water quality and improvements in stream animal life as a result of establishing vegetated buffer strips along streams and implementing agricultural erosion control measures.
Substantial nutrient reduction must occur to prevent beach closures due to algae blooms.
Photo courtesy of USEPA
Can we reduce the nutrient pollution to Chautauqua Lake and its smaller sister lakes in our county? I believe so. We should follow the lead of what was demonstrated on Conesus Lake - a concentrated small watershed, field-by-field, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to evaluating the sources of pollutants and developing, prioritizing, funding and implementing best management practices, one field and one neighborhood at a time. It can be done. It requires each lake, watershed community and neighborhood and all levels of government investing the time and resources for success. It requires investing in upgrading the public wastewater treatment plants discharging to the lake. It requires a substantial investment in quantifying the runoff and pollution coming from each neighborhood unit, farm field, forest block, highway and commercial area. It requires an investment in the local scientific, technical and land use expertise to understand our watersheds and design the most cost-effective techniques to address the multiple sources of pollution that combine to over-fertilize our lakes. It requires each of us to change our property care, landscaping, household and business practices to ensure our waters don't turn into smelly, pea soup lagoons that are unfit for man or beast.
The Chautauqua Lake community is making progress on these efforts. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy employs conservationists to assist residential suburban and rural property owners to conserve and enhance yards and properties to reduce nutrient and sedimentation pollution to our lakes and streams. The County Soil and Water Conservation District and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service employ conservationists to help farmers address erosion and agricultural nutrient and sediment management. The agricultural industry is making substantial investments in the Chautauqua Lake watershed to manage nutrients. The Chautauqua Lake Management Commission is prioritizing watershed actions and coordinating activities among watershed groups. The communities around Chautauqua Lake have come together to form the Chautauqua Lake Inter-Municipal Committee to implement actions recommended by the Chautauqua Lake Management Plan. Several municipal highway departments have begun routinely reseeding road ditches after cleaning them to reduce lake sedimentation. Progress is being made. The future of the conditions in Chautauqua's lakes is in the hands of each of us. To learn more about what you can do, visit the "Watershed Care" tab on the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy's website at chautauquawatershed.org and read the Chautauqua Lake Management Plan at www.planningchautauqua.com/watershed/chautlake_mgmt_plan.htm.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a private, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. Its urgent focus is to conserve the endangered natural shore lands of Chautauqua's Lakes, which provide fish and wildlife habitat and pollution filtering functions. The Conservancy is funded primarily through membership donations. Its 2012 annual membership campaign is currently underway. It is presently raising funds to assist willing landowners to conserve natural habitats on Chautauqua and other lakes and streams. Please contact the Conservancy at 664-2166 for membership and volunteering opportunities.