"Enclosed is a copy of the email I just sent the county," a Lakewood property owner wrote to us last week. "I'm not sure if you can use this email to put pressure on the county or the state to fix the problems on the lake but at this point I will try anything."
He was referring to the abundant growth of curleyleaf pondweed in Chautauqua Lake. His letter explained he pays thousands of dollars in taxes for the privilege of living on the lakeshore, but he cannot use his boat because the area around his dock is overwhelmed with the pondweeds.
We appreciate his frustration and share his concern that if the quality of the lake deteriorates, so too will the value of property, which in turn will erode the county's tax base.
But we also point out that the very expectation of there being a way to deal once and for all with weed growth in the lake - to fix the problem, as he put it - is a problem in itself.
In fact, whole passel things - diverse goals and opinions, misunderstandings and simplistic assumptions, to name a few - make it hard to even speak with one voice about how to deal with the overabundant growth of aquatic plants in Chautauqua Lake.
Here's a few that come to mind:
Fishermen, lakeside property owners and recreational boaters have different opinions about how much of a nuisance the weeds have become.
The problem is not new nor can we say it is worse now than it has ever been. Noxious algae was so bad one summer in the mid-1930s that the Board of Supervisors ordered copper sulfate to be dumped into the lake as a sanitary measure.
If we had a long, grey and rainy spring, the problem would not be so critical so early in the season.
Those pristine lawns surrounding all of the homes that have been built around the lake over the past few decades are bad for the lake. It is highly likely that some of the very people who are complaining about the weed growth now and who will be decrying the algae growth this summer are the very ones who have make it worse by using fertilizers on their lawns and gardens.
Too, the weevils and moths that are a big help in controlling the later-growing Eurasian milfoil cannot survive in areas where lawns are manicured to the water's edge. They need taller grasses and other natural plants for cover when they winter on shore.
There are some things we simply cannot afford to do. Dredging is an example. While the dollar figures here are dated, they serve the purpose of the example of Burtis Bay.
Aquatic plants can grow in 12 to 13 feet of water. The average depth of the lake in Burtis Bay is 7 feet. According to figures in a study from the 1990s, it would cost about $970,000 to dredge 5 feet of sediment from a 10-acre plot. Burtis Bay is 400 acres. So the total cost would be $38 million - although whether the state would even allow dredging is questionable.
Harvesting and herbicides used in the past did not eliminate prolific weed growth. They controlled it only in select areas of the lake. In other areas, weeds continued to grow - and thank goodness for that. With no aquatic plant growth, Chautauqua Lake would be a dead zone.
Chautauqua Lake as a fishery is an important part of the local tourist economy. We certainly don't want to get rid of aquatic plant growth entirely.
We have not even started talking about the algae blooms that come along later in the summer. There are no mechanical nor chemical ways to eliminate those truly yucky-looking blue-green algae blooms. They are caused by nutrients washed into the lake - rainwater running off fertilized lawns, for example - and so are an entirely manmade phenomenon.
Our point in reciting all of this is that we need to stand behind a consistent, well-researched, science-based plan to reach a balance of healthy, but not overpowering, aquatic plant growth.
If only there was such a thing.
There is hope, however, now that the Chautauqua County Planning Department and the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission have hired Cedar Eden Environmental of Saranac Lake, a firm they say has expertise in aquatic plant management, to come up with that plan for Chautauqua Lake.