Improving Chautauqua’s Water Quality With Improvement Projects

With grant funding from New York State’s Water Quality Improvement Project program, two recently completed streambank restoration projects aim to reduce nutrient and sediment loading to Chautauqua Lake from two of the Lake’s tributaries — Goose Creek, pictured above, and Dewittville Creek. Photo by Jill Eklund

The scenic and bountiful waterways, forests and fields of the Chautauqua region are what make it a special place to live and visit. Healthy waterways in particular are a vital part of our region’s quality of life and economy. They are sources of recreation, tourism, local industry and natural beauty. They provide places to fish, boat and swim, to observe wildlife and to reconnect with nature. They also provide clean and safe drinking water and habitat for a large number of wildlife species.

The water clarity and quality of some of these natural resources, however, has become “impaired” in recent years by excessive nutrient and sediment loading, none more so than in Chautauqua Lake.

More than half of the water in Chautauqua Lake comes from its eleven tributary streams. When those tributary creek waters contain high levels of nutrients and sediments and are deposited into the lake, they provide a fertile growing environment favoring invasive aquatic plants and algae blooms. When the lake experiences an overabundance of those plants and/or algal blooms that are toxic, it harms not only our recreational enjoyment of the lake but also the environmental health and economic viability of the lake.

With grant funding from New York State’s Water Quality Improvement Project program, two recently completed streambank restoration projects aim to reduce this nutrient and sediment loading to Chautauqua Lake from two of its tributaries — namely, Dewittville Creek and Goose Creek — by restoring sections of these creeks with significant bank erosion. While bank erosion is a natural process on all waterbodies, significant or severe erosion can allow a higher amount of pollutants like sediments and nutrients to enter the water due to their unstable soils. Therefore, projects that target streambank sites with significant erosion issues will have a significant impact on improving water quality in both the creek and the lake.

On Dewittville Creek, 225 feet of eroding streambank near Route 54 and Meadows Road in Dewittville was restored and stabilized. Some 627 tons of stone were used to create rip-rap toe and bank protection as well as an engineered rock riffle. Rock and tree bendway weirs were also placed in spots around the bend of the bank to help alleviate stress points. The banks were re-graded and then bioengineered for additional stability with approximately 700 shrub willow plantings. As the willows grow, the root network of this woody vegetation will help reinforce the strength of the banks by binding together soils as well as slowing down and filtering the water runoff entering the stream and, eventually, the lake. This project, which was completed in October, received $62,100 in WQIP grant funding, with another $45,000 in local matching funds, for a project total of $107,100.

Similar improvements were made on 210 feet of eroding streambank on Goose Creek, located along Route 474 near South Maple Avenue in Ashville. Approximately 330 tons of stone were used to create a large rip-rap wall to protect the toe of the streambank. The embankment was re-graded and then bioengineered for additional bank stability with the planting of seven trees. The deep roots of these trees will help to filter nutrients and pollutants from groundwater runoff before it flows into the stream and, eventually, the lake. This project, which was completed in November, received $70,650 in WQIP grant funding, with another $42,500 in local matching funds, for a project total of $113,150.

Streambank stabilization projects like these are crucial with respect to reducing sediment and nutrient loading to our local aquatic ecosystems because everyone in the Chautauqua region — both residents and visitors alike — not only enjoys but also benefits from the resulting cleaner waters.

The Dewittville Creek and Goose Creek Streambank Stabilization Projects are part of the New York State Water Quality Improvement Project program, a competitive, statewide reimbursement grant program open to projects that directly address documented water quality impairments. Both projects were sponsored by the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Development, with work overseen by the County Soil & Water Conservation District, education provided by the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and funding provided by the NYS Environmental Protection Fund administered by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local, private not-for-profit organization that works to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.

For more information, visit http://chautauquawatershed.org or http://facebook.com/chautauquawatershed or call 716-664-2166.

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