Summer is here on Chautauqua Lake!
What are we experiencing? A topped-out crop of curly leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) ringing much of the lake. This pondweed completes its life cycle quickly and should die back by the first week of July. We also have a variety of other plants that will continue to grow throughout the summer as well as lots of green, "cotton candy" filamentous algae covering the rocks and sticks and plants in the water.
So what is fueling these problems with the lake?
1) Take a natural lake, surrounded by soils that naturally contain the plant nutrient phosphorus, and add a whole lot more nutrients to it from farms, wastewater treatment plants, lawn fertilizers, pet wastes, and exhaust from vehicles and power plants over many decades.
2) Release thousands of tons of fertile topsoil from the watershed through agriculture, the clearing of forests, the continued scouring of road ditches and careless land excavation.
3) Accelerate erosion from stream banks and storm water runoff by hardening and paving over the watershed.
4) Add very little ice cover on the lake last winter and a very warm spring to get the plants and algae growing. In short, we have an overfed and warmed-up lake. It took more than a century of intensive human uses to get us here, and it will take many years to slow the decline of the lake.
What can we do as a community to arrest this decline?
We must cut off the supply of sediments and nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) reaching the lake. How? There are multiple sources of nutrients, so we must implement multiple initiatives to address this problem and individuals, businesses and governments must each do their part. The three easiest actions we can take are:
1) Avoid or strictly limit the use of lawn fertilizers, particularly those containing phosphorus and especially within 50 feet of any watercourse.
2) Scoop up pet waste, and place it in the garbage, bury it or flush it down the toilet.
3) Avoid the use of detergents containing phosphorus.
The next most important step is for the county and/or municipalities to develop a storm water and erosion control law made enforceable by a watershed pollution control officer.
Beyond that it gets more costly.
We must invest in:
1) Upgrading our wastewater treatment plants to remove a majority of the phosphorus and nitrogen in sewage.
2) Connecting lakeside communities to central wastewater treatment plants where small community systems can't be cost-effectively upgraded.
3) Conservation practices on farms to carefully manage animal wastes, limit livestock's access to waterways and implement responsible conservation pasturing and cropping.
4) Conservationists to provide technical assistance and design conservation projects for rural and suburban landowners.
5) Conserving the remaining natural shore land sites and natural floodplain and wetland storm water basins that trap and filter nutrients, pollutants and sediments before they reach the lake and that provide habitat for insects that eat lake plants.
6) Conserving and enhancing stream corridors and upland tributary headwater forests which help collect, store, filter and recharge ground waters and modulate the discharge of storm water to lake tributaries.
7) Retrofitting and upgrading fields, parking lots, roads, and commercial, industrial and residential grounds with trees, bioswales, infiltration trenches, sediment traps, vegetated berms, and rain gardens to store, filter, and infiltrate ground water, and to reduce the volume and energy of storm waters eroding stream banks and damaging roads and other infrastructure during storms.
Why make these investments?
Because our lake is not only highly valuable to those who use it, but it is also highly valuable to each and every family and business in the county. The properties around Chautauqua Lake cover only 1 percent of the land area of the county but provide 26 percent of the total taxable property value in the county. Additionally, the lake is responsible for more than $70 million in economic impact to the region annually.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.