Editor's note: This is the second article in a series of four based on a seminar given by Chautauqua County Watershed Coordinator Jeffrey Diers and Dr. Fred Hitzhusen.
CHAUTAUQUA - Just as anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking knows, breaking a bad habit is all about winning the little battles. In the same sense, reclaiming the lake from sediment starts in the ditches and creeks at the boundaries of the Chautauqua Lake watershed, rather than right on the shores.
In the second meeting of a four-part seminar, Chautauqua County Watershed Coordinator Jeffrey Diers spoke for a little over an hour on all the ways different municipalities around the lake can and are doing their part to keep excess sediment out of the lake, as well as areas to improve upon.
Pictured above are breakwalls along the lake that help to stop erosion where they are positioned, however more often than not they inadvertently divert waves to unprotected parts of the shore where erosion is intensified.
P-J photos by Remington Whitcomb
Before diving into ecologically friendly methods to help prevent erosion and sediment migration, Diers spoke about why the current practice of harvesting submerged aquatic vegetation addresses a result of the problem rather than the source of it.
"In the beginning, it was the push by the state and other environmental groups that said, 'you can't keep treating the eyesore, you need to do something about the source,'" said Diers. "So everyone came back to the realization that we keep spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to harvest and clean up weeds, only for them to come right back. Always - year after year and every year it gets worse. That's why it's time to address the problem at the source, the watershed."
According to Diers, the battle begins with homeowners. Because there are 14 different municipalities in the Chautauqua Lake watershed and New York state employs a "home rule" government, there can never be a mandate that forces those municipalities to cooperate in one watershed management plan. However, as it is, 12 of the 14 municipalities have voluntarily agreed to sign a watershed management compact.
"A member from each of the 12 municipalities is drafting specific ordinances for each municipality in agreeance of how they're going to manage their watershed," said Diers. "Whatever a municipality above you does, it could impact the municipality below."
Diers went on to explain how the 2 percent bed tax money which is allocated for lake restoration and maintenance is being used. According to Diers, individual bed tax projects cannot exceed a price of $40,000. However, there are several projects which range in between $5,000 to $40,000 which are currently being employed that will help keep sediment out of the lake.
As it was discussed in Tuesday's article addressing Diers' seminar, one of the greatest contributors of sediment to the lake are drainage ditches alongside impervious surfaces.
One project Diers discussed which is helping to mitigate the amount of sediment brought to the lake by drainage ditches is the hydroseeding of roadside ditches.
"Hydroseeding is a material with grass seed and nutrients which allow it to grow quickly on the surface of a steep embankment, or in this case a ditch," said Diers. "This gets us away from the practice of digging out ditches every spring, because all that does is reestablish new sediment for water to erode. Here, we're trying to prevent the erosion."
Diers also said that practices such as lining roadside ditches with rock rubble and installing concrete check-dams have also been employed, with the ultimate goal of covering up the bare soil and slowing down the water to allow it to slowly make its way into the lake, rather than speed along and pick up sediment as it moves.
AGGRESSIVE SHORELINE PLANTING
Alongside Goose Creek, which flows into the lake around where the towns of Busti and North Harmony meet, an initiative to aggressively plant vegetation such as willows and other trees has been taking place.
According to Diers, a farmer whose land borders Goose Creek lost 100 linear feet of property to erosion, simply because of how old streams and rivers tend to meander. Obviously, as the creek overtakes that land, it becomes deposited in the creek and eventually ends up in the lake.
In an attempt to keep the creek from overtaking any more land, rock rubble and willows have been placed alongside the creek, with the overall objective for the rocks to cover up the loose soil and the goal of the willows to establish a root system holding the soil in place.
Though such projects take years to come to full fruition, projects such as the ones on Goose Creek will pay dividends in the future.
At the Chautauqua County Landfill in Ellery, sedimentation ponds are employed to prevent runoff sediment from the landfill from ever reaching any naturally occurring streams. These ponds hold water long enough for sediment to settle to the bottom, where it can be dredged once or twice a year.
While there is undoubtedly tons upon tons of sediment at the bottom of the lake, dredging it out would be difficult and cost ineffective.
However, erecting sediment dams at the end of rivers and creeks before they reach the lake is a plausible way of reducing the sediment entering the lake, and a few municipalities have completed sediment dam projects of their own.
According to Diers, these "check-dams" are built so large sediment hits the first wall of the dam and settles out, while smaller sediment such as silt and clay hit the second wall and settle there.
One such sediment-reduction dam, which was built on Crescent Creek, filled 14 dumptrucks with sediment when dredged.
"If we're able to maintain that kind of check-dam on such a small creek, think of what a check-dam on a larger stream could keep out of the lake," said Diers. "Dredging the lake would take millions and millions of dollars which simply aren't there. This check-dam was a $40,000 project and is worth every penny."
Today's lecture, which will take place in Room 103 of the Turner Community Building at the Chautauqua Institution, will be led by Dr. Fred Hitzhusen and will touch upon the economics of lake restoration.