It is a sad day here in Burtis Bay. This article was supposed to be about paddle boarding, but instead of being out on the lake collecting data for my story, I am sitting in my house with the windows closed and the air conditioner running. We have been overtaken by an abundance of blue-green algae and the stench of decaying fish and weeds. This is probably the worst condition my lake front has been in since I came here 16 years ago.
During the first week of July, we were inundated with floating weeds thanks to many days of strong winds out of the northwest. Everyone in the neighborhood, some over the age of 70, pitched in. We worked all weekend to hoist the weeds onto the docks and break walls, covering roughly 150 feet of lakefront. Then, after coordinating with the Chautauqua Lake Association, a shoreline cleanup crew and a barge headed our way. Working together, we filled the barge nearly three times. For a few days, we had relatively clear water and enjoyed the lake. But within no time at all, the algae blew in, paralyzing the neighborhood.
Living on the shores of Chautauqua Lake had been the answer to my dreams. My husband and I worked our whole lives to get here. I am not rich, and neither are any of the neighbors. All of us chose to live here because of the lake. Swimming, boating, waterskiing, kayaking and fishing are our extracurricular activities all healthy choices. Now we feel like prisoners in our own homes because of the condition of the lake, and we need help. No - Chautauqua Lake needs help.
Pulled out of the lake by Burtis Bay homeowners, weeds line the breakwall and cover the docks while waiting for a CLA barge to come haul them away.
Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver
Taking care of Chautauqua Lake is a touchy subject. It costs money, but it also brings in much needed revenue and tax dollars. Some of the controversy revolves around removal of the excessive submerged aquatic vegetation or "weeds." Everyone has their own opinions and ideas about what is best, and some have even suggested that shoreline cleanup is the responsibility of the homeowners and should be eliminated from necessary lake operations. In my opinion, shoreline cleanup is one of the most important elements in the war against weeds.
Research and firsthand observation has shown that even the smallest piece of Eurasian water milfoil has the potential of rooting while floating in the lake. Sooner or later, it drops to the bottom and starts a new plant. Last year, Burtis Bay was practically weed-free, but weeds were prolific up the lake. This year is a totally different story. We've had milfoil and curly leaf pondweed to the surface since early June, and the wind has pushed all the floating debris our way. The weeds were packed solid from the shore to the ends of our 90-foot docks. As an old lady with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow, I try to do my share cleaning up around my dock, but I can't clean up the whole lake. Suggesting homeowners do all their own shoreline cleanup would be like asking the residents along Route 394 to hand shovel Fairmount Avenue after a three foot snowfall.
So far this year, I have personally hauled nearly 50 wheelbarrow loads of weeds out of the lake and have helped fork scores more onto the CLA's cutters and barges to be taken away. I am tired, and I am sad. Sad that I can't swim from my dock; sad that I can't sit on my porch and enjoy a morning cup of coffee; sad that I can't invite my family to come to my home; sad that my windows are closed; and sad that this story could not be about paddle boarding.
Say a prayer for our lake, for the people that love her and for those in charge so positive changes can be made soon for a brighter future here in Chautauqua County.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit 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. It is partnering with the Chautauqua Bird, Tree and Garden Club to host a series of lake walks Monday evenings through Aug. 20, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Heinz Beach at Chautauqua Institution.