Revisiting The Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan

In September 2010, the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan was finalized after years of study and coordination among numerous interested agencies, scientists, local officials, sportsmen and other specialists. More than seven years have passed since the issuance of this Plan, and it is well worth revisiting.

The Plan lists six goals:

“Goal 1: Improve water quality in the lake, streams, ponds, and wetlands of the watershed by reducing the inflow of nutrients and sedimentation that causes the problematic growth of aquatic vegetation, the outbreak of algal blooms, the degradation of drinking water quality, and the loss of navigable water routes.

Goal 2: Protect and restore the natural function of the watershed’s drainage system that impacts stream conveyance, riparian health, floodplains, wetlands, and flow variability.

Goal 3: Conserve critical natural resources in the watershed that support healthy ecological communities of native plants, fish, wildlife, and other organisms.

Goal 4: Maintain and improve recreational opportunities in the lake and watershed.

Goal 5: Inspire and educate watershed stakeholders to implement the watershed management plan through public education and collaboration.

Goal 6: Implement sound land use practices and policies for private landowners, farmers, and municipalities that benefit the watershed.”

The three-volume Plan includes detailed summaries of the threats and impairments to Chautauqua Lake and its watershed. A significant portion of the Plan is devoted to detailed recommendations assigned to various responsible parties, including the County, municipalities, agencies and groups, including the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy. The Plan also includes costs and completion timeframes for the recommendations.

The success of this enormous planning effort will not be judged by the number of pages or sheer weight of the document, but rather, by its implementation and outcomes. The fate of many planning documents is to sit on shelves collecting dust – with the majority of effort put into the plan development, not implementation. Since improvements in Chautauqua Lake water quality and watershed health can only be achieved and measured over time, the stamina and force of will needed for implementation is especially challenging. The efforts need to be sustained over a long period – through political transitions, changes in land ownership, population shifts and economic ups and downs.

The good news is that much progress has been made to date. Upgrades to wastewater treatment plants and the expansion of the municipal sewer systems are underway – efforts costing millions of dollars that will limit nutrient discharges to the lake. Enhanced regulation of septic systems will also contribute to future decreases in nutrient loading to the Lake. Accomplishments also include implementation of comprehensive nutrient management plans for farms, stabilization of numerous streambank sections of Lake tributaries, conservation of critical shoreline and watershed properties, installation of vegetated buffers along lake and tributary shores, etc. Even with this progress, significant future efforts are needed.

The preface to the Plan states: “Ultimately, lake and watershed management is the responsibility of everyone, including property owners, recreational users, and local municipalities. We must all work together to conserve this natural resource for our children and future generations. Our success depends on our ability to resolve conflicts and achieve common goals. By understanding the connection between our use of land in the watershed and the resultant impacts it has on our streams and lakes, we can change our community for the better. We understand the problems, now it is time for us to solve them through real and permanent change. So as you read this plan and consider your role in the watershed, ask yourself this question: What can I do for Chautauqua Lake and its watershed?”

It’s helpful to keep asking ourselves that question and to reaffirm our commitment to make a difference. There are many ways to contribute to this effort, even as an individual. Property owners can manage their own land to avoid chemical fertilizers, maintain vegetative buffers and limit storm water discharges. Citizens can support efforts of municipalities to adopt regulations and best management practices in their communities and can support the expenditures that will be necessary to manage and enforce these measures. Over time, and with the sustained effort of the entire community, we can achieve success.

The full 2010 Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan is available to view under the “Watershed Management” tab on the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development’s website at www.planningchautauqua.com.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. The public is invited to join CWC at 5:30 PM, Friday, Feb. 9, for fellowship and fun snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or just conversing by the fire at its Cassadaga Creek Wetland Preserve. Visit www.chautauquawatershed.org for more information.

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