To reduce weeds and algae in Chautauqua Lake, less phosphorus or nutrients need to enter.
That is why officials involved in fostering Chautauqua Lake are writing letters to get a total maximum daily load report for phosphorus finalized by the state.
In September, the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission and its inter-municipal committee, which is made up of supervisors, mayors and board members from communities around the lake, approved writing letters to encourage state Department of Environmental Conservation officials to finalize the document. The county's Water Quality Task Force and Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy also wrote similar letters.
Primary clarifiers at the Chautauqua Utility District’s wastewater treatment plant at the Chautauqua Institution.
P-J photo by Dennis Phillips
Rotating biological contractors at Chautauqua Utility District’s wastewater treatment plant at the Chautauqua Institution.
The total maximum daily load, also know as TMDL, specifies the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. TMDLs account for all contributing phosphorus sources to the lake, which there are two classifications for - point and nonpoint sources. A point source includes facilities like a wastewater treatment center. A nonpoint source includes agricultural runoff and septic systems. In essence, the TMDL defines the capacity of the waterbody to absorb a pollutant and still meet water quality standards.
Jeff Diers, county watershed coordinator, said the DEC is in the final stages of approving Chautauqua Lake's TMDL report.
"It needs to be sent from the state DEC to the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency for approval," he said.
The report will set new criteria to lessen the amount of phosphorus entering the lake, Diers said.
"Chautauqua Lake is an impaired waterbody. The impairment is across the lake, with weeds and algae impairing the use of the lake. It is impaired primarily from phosphate loading," he said. "The only way to begin to control weeds and algae is to reduce the loading of nutrients into Chautauqua Lake. This is the only true way to be successful because plants will obviously grow with nutrients. We need the (TMDL) plan in place to start the healing process."
Bill Boria, county Health Department water resource specialist, said Chautauqua Lake is vital to the county's economy. If beaches are closed because of blue-green algae, which was the case at times this summer in Lakewood, Mayville and at the Chautauqua Institution, it will affect the number of tourists visiting the county.
"We've had issues with weeds and algae, which is a problem that impacts tourism," he said. "We have to do something drastic to help reduce (the weeds and algae)."
One way to address the phosphorus entering the lake is by making changes to the wastewater treatment plants around the lake, especially the north basin. Boria said once the TMDL is approved, treatment facilities will have to reduce their phosphorus levels to an intermediate level of 1 part per million.
"To meet the intermediate permit level, facilities will just add a chemical, a sequestering agent, to lock up the phosphorus," he said. "Relatively speaking, it is not real expensive."
However, after the first change is done, sewer district officials will then have five years to upgrade their facilities to meet a new permanent standard. The new criteria will lower phosphorus levels to .2 parts per million. Boria said, right now, wastewater treatment facilities are at phosphorus levels of between 1 and 4 parts per million.
"To meet the final level is going to require significant changes and upgrades to all plants," Boria said. "How this is going to get paid for is a big question. Rates will go up. It will be a tremendous burden on customers. That is why the letters are being written to get the report finalized and to let it be known there is a need for funding to upgrade the facilities."