Get Educated, Get Involved

To improve and protect our waterways, such as Chautauqua Lake and its tributaries, we need to ask the question, “How is your community managing your watershed?” 
Photo by Jen Leister

To improve and protect our waterways, such as Chautauqua Lake and its tributaries, we need to ask the question, “How is your community managing your watershed?” Photo by Jen Leister

The lakes and streams in Chautauqua County are some of our region’s most valuable assets. These waterways have been impacted for decades by the landscapes which “shed” water to them. Chautauqua Lake, for instance, is impacted by tributaries subjected to excessive flood volume, erosion, sedimentation and poor water quality due to poorly sited development and patterns of development. To improve these and other waterways, we need to ask the question, “How is your community managing your watershed?”

The “8 Tools of Watershed Protection in Developing Areas,” promoted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), provides a framework for communities to follow in managing their valuable water resources. The “8 Tools” are: land use planning, land conservation, aquatic buffers, better site design, erosion and sediment control, stormwater best management practices, non-stormwater discharges and watershed stewardship programs. According to the USEPA Watershed Academy Web site training module on this, these tools lay out steps generally corresponding to the stages of development as a community or watershed is developed. This site also states that “a watershed manager will generally need to apply some form of all eight tools in every watershed to provide comprehensive protection.”

People often make the assumption that, as long as an area has public wastewater treatment, lake and stream water quality is protected. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The Center for Watershed Protection and other researchers have shown that the percentage of impervious cover in a watershed is strongly correlated to the degradation of stream structure, habitat loss, poor water quality and higher frequency of flooding. More development leads to more water pollution and degraded lake and stream conditions, even if wastewater treatment systems are in place. Conversely, the larger the percentage of forest cover in a watershed, the higher the quality of the waters in that watershed.

The CWP’s “Tool 1” is land use planning According to the EPA, impervious cover has such a strong influence on watershed quality that communities must carefully analyze the location and intensity of development that is anticipated in a watershed. Municipalities, with the participation of their citizens, businesses, planning boards, legislative boards and other stakeholders should develop community land use plans, zoning and other land use controls that recognize which water and other natural resource features are valuable and/or sensitive and direct intensive development away from such areas Most zoning ordinances now in place pay little attention to the impacts their zoning “blue prints” for residential and commercial development patterns prescribe for sensitive essential water resource areas such as wetlands, stream corridors and waterfront habitats. Some communities have established “conservation districts” to place special restrictions on development in sensitive areas.

I encourage you to read the training module on these “8 Tools” at the USEPA’s website (http://cfpub.epa.gov/watertrain/index.cfm). Several other informative training modules are available there as well.

EPA provides another site, entitled, “What You Can Do” at http://water. epa.gov/action/. For information about what you can do on your own yard or property, visit the CWC website at http://www. chautauquawatershed.org. To learn more about specific actions recommended to improve the water quality of Chautauqua Lake and its watershed, go to the Planning Chautauqua website at http://www.planningchautauqua.com/watershed/index.htm and read the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan.

In order to successfully improve our waterways, communities must engage all levels of government, and residential, commercial, industrial and institutional property owners and service providers in employing practices and policies to protect water resources. The New York State DEC or USEPA isn’t going to do it for us. In short, it is up to each and every one of us to manage our lives, homes, grounds and businesses to protect our life-giving waters.

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. CWC will be adding new outings and programs to its winter calendar. Please check our website and/or Facebook page and subscribe to our e-news for the latest information. The CWC’s 2018 membership campaign is underway. Individuals, businesses and organizations are encouraged to join the CWC by calling 664-2166 or visiting www.chautauquawatershed.org. Please get on board for clean water and healthy habitats!

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