BEMUS POINT - Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Although current residents of Chautauqua Lake are not solely responsible for the lake's ecological health, if they continue to perpetuate the actions of past generations or become apathetic, the biological health of the lake will continue to deteriorate.
Those were the thoughts of Jane Conroe, conservationist from the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, who took a "then-and-now" look at Chautauqua Lake on Thursday night at the Bemus Point Library.
In her discussion, data compiled from past surveys of the lake was compared and contrasted with current data.
Conroe began by discussing how James Prendergast established the Prendergast Mill on the outlet of Chautauqua Lake and how the lake area was virtually deforested by 1840. Conroe continued by showing people sitting on breakwalls on the shore and recognizable buildings such as The Athenaeum Hotel and The Lenhart Hotel near the turn of the 20th century.
Conroe then moved into past surveys of the lake's health, describing the lake as "the patient."
A statistic from a 1938 study explored the effect of copper sulfate as a herbicide. While the study indicated that, after two treatments, the amount of green algae decreased by 75 percent, it indicated that the herbicide actually increased by amount of blue-green by 336 percent.
A 1975 study showed "man's 20th century culture ... appears to favor the development of pest weeds and algae at the expense of a more balanced, diverse, stable and desirable lake biology."
"It became apparent at the time of that study that something we were doing was causing the pests to grow better than the good (plants)," said Conroe.
Conroe next visited a state of the lake survey completed in 2000, which stated that solutions for improving the ecological health of the lake were:
Establish watershed-wide best management practices;
Establish whole farm management with care for higher costs;
Encourage educational programs;
Continue routine monitoring;
Reduce nutrients to lake from sewer plants;
Create agency to enforce regulation of stormwater retention and erosion control.
The 2010 Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan included the incorporation of stormwater, erosion and sediment control practices.
Additionally, an EPA national lake assessment of 1,000 American lakes in 2010 showed that many other American lakes have similar problems. The study determined that 56 percent of the lakes studied were in good condition, 22 percent were in fair condition and 22 percent were in poor condition.
Conroe said that if Chautauqua Lake was part of the study, it would have been rated between fair and poor.
The top three stressors listed to lakes on a national scale, including Chautauqua Lake, were: lack of natural lakeshore habitat, physical complexity of shoreline (Conroe said this generally meant too many breakwalls, artificial beaches and a lack of trees) and nutrient loading.
Conroe also explained that the south basin of the lake has become eutrophic and the clarity of the water in the north basin is considered mesotrophic, but the phosphorus levels in the north basin suggests it is also eutrophic.
What this means is that the amount of nutrients in the lake excessively promotes the growth of organisms that, once dead and decaying, depletes the amount of oxygen in the water.
According to Conroe, some ways to help reverse the eutrophication of the lake are: conserve and restore natural shorelines, plant buffer strips to absorb nutrients and control erosion, maximize shoreline and riparian vegetation buffers, reduce impermeable surfaces and plant more trees. Unfortunately, all were suggestions that were alluded to in the 1975 study.
Conroe said to try to make Chautauqua Lake property owners more aware of the current plight of the lake, they will soon be receiving a letter in the mail detailing the current problems and solutions associated with the lake.
"The letter is being sent to let the property owners know that they are the front line," said Conroe. "The message is: (watershed organizations) cannot change the lake if the property owners won't help change the lake. If they own the property, they directly impact the lake for better or worse. (The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy) is here to talk to the owners, give them suggestions and offer them help, but in the end, the owners hold control. Many of the owners don't realize the control they have, so hopefully (the letter) will help them to realize."