With 90 percent of the Chautauqua Lake shoreline now filled with mowed grass, yards, roads, parking lots, boat yards and septic systems, 90 percent of the lake's shoreline has lost most or all of its capacity to filter nutrients and sediments from the waters that enter the lake.
Instead of filtering nutrients, many of these sites now deliver water that contains lawn fertilizers, which helps to grow excessive amounts of algae and submerged aquatic vegetation. Lakeshore forests and fields have been excavated, releasing tons of topsoil into the lake with each construction site. Abundant plants have overtaken clean, gravel bottom lake areas as sediments provide fertile rooting beds for growth.
According to information from Wisconsin, a typical residential lakeside lawn contributes five times the runoff of precipitation as an undeveloped wooded site. For lakeside residential sites, phosphorus (a primary nutrient which fuels nuisance algae and plant growth) that runs off of lawns was nearly seven times greater than from wooded sites (see: www4.uwsp.edu/cnr/uwexlakes/factsheets/fs-12.pdf).
Natural shoreline vegetation buffers provide many benefits to the ecological health and enjoyment lakes and streams.
Courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service
So we likely have many times the loading of phosphorus entering Chautauqua Lake from the 90 percent of the shoreline that has been developed, as compared to when that land was undeveloped! We can see why our water quality measures have declined over the last three decades. Additionally, much of the acreage of the undeveloped and natural sites have been too wet or too steep to have been attractive to develop in the past. But with shoreline properties so highly valued and so scarce, people have been buying and finding ways to develop these "unattractive" sites. This is likely to cause excessive erosion and/or destroy the water storage and filtration functions these sites provided.
Because of the essential nature of natural shorelands to the ecological health and water quality of lakes, conserving Chautauqua Lake's most important shorelands has been a primary objective and activity of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy since it began in 1990. Since 10 percent of natural shoreline is not enough, the CWC has led efforts to convince shoreland owners to restore natural buffer vegetation along their shoreline sites and has several buffer projects underway. To learn more about lakeshore buffers and "aquascaping" lakeshore lands visit: www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakescaping/index.html and www.dnr.state.mn.us/volunteer/marapr98/aquascaping.html. Please call 664-2166 if you would like help landscaping your lakeshore.
The CWC has facilitated the conservation of 2 miles of lake and outlet shoreline to date. With only about 1.5 miles of the lake's 42-mile shoreline in a natural condition, held in private ownership, available to be conserved or threatened by development, the CWC continues to focus its resources on saving as much of these shoreline sites as possible. We and our fish and wildlife-the other residents of our lake and watershed cannot afford to suffer the impacts of the loss of any more of the lake's natural shoreline. The CWC is raising funds to conserve the Whitney Bay Lakeshore Forest Wetland site and other lakeshore sites that are important for the health and ecology of our lakes. You can help in this effort by joining the CWC, urging our state and local elected officials to utilize dedicated environmental and waterway protection funds for waterway conservation projects, and supporting the CWC and these projects through your business or organization.
Conservation can't wait! Important and increasingly scarce habitat sites are being lost with each season. We have to save them now or lose them and their fish and wildlife forever.
The mission of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. Visit our website or like CWC on Facebook to get updates on upcoming tours and events. To support these conservation programs, schedule a presentation to your organization, or for more information call the CWC at 664-2166. To donate call the CWC or go to our website at www.chautauquawatershed.org.