Community Is Best Option To Lead Chautauqua Lake Maintenance Efforts

We are writing in response to the opinion editorial by Fletcher Ward published in The Post-Journal on Sunday, December 10th. In his contribution, Mr. Ward asks, “Where is the support for Chautauqua Lake?”

There is much in Mr. Ward’s article with which we agree. That is not surprising, because Mr. Ward is very familiar with Chautauqua Lake. He has lived on or near the lake for his entire life, as his family did before him.

Those who have lived here long enough will remember Ward’s Ice Cream Parlor, which occupied a building beginning in the 1950s, became various restaurants and is now The Italian Fisherman. In addition to his lake-related family history, Mr. Ward has authored several books about Chautauqua Lake on topics of historical and current interest to those who ask the same question – where is the support for Chautauqua Lake?

As active members of the all-volunteer Chautauqua Lake Partnership (Partnership), we also wonder about support for the lake. Mr. Ward argues that Chautauqua County, not an “independent municipality,” should assume the major role of lake support. The municipality to which he refers is the Town of Ellery, which has taken the lead in the development of a Partnership-supported $250,000 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on behalf of 10 shoreline communities and their Towns and Villages.

As a result of a 1986 agreement between the Chautauqua Lake Association (CLA) and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), an SEIS is necessary to allow permitting for targeted use of herbicides to combat invasive weeds in Chautauqua Lake. While the County has taken steps to address lake problems cited by Mr. Ward – excessive weed growth and algal blooms – it deferred the SEIS development and SEQRA review planned as part of its 2017 Macrophyte Management Strategy (MMS) to property owners and municipalities.

Ellery Town Supervisor Arden Johnson and his Board should be commended for their SEIS leadership. Similarly, the Towns of Ellicott, Busti and North Harmony, along with the Villages of Bemus Point, Celoron and Lakewood, should be commended for supporting their communities in this regard.

Again, we agree with much in Mr. Ward’s opinion editorial. What we miss most, however, is the perspective provided by what has been learned from the last 60+ years of lake management:

¯ The reality of what has and has not worked in Chautauqua Lake New York State’s DEC successfully used herbicides to control invasive weeds from 1955 to 1959. The CLA successfully used herbicides for the same purpose for 30 years between 1960 and 1992. In fact, on September 29, 1989, the CLA President (current Executive Director) addressed the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce and Jamestown Manufacturers Association as follows, “You can use herbicides – we have – you’ve seen the effectiveness of that. From 1982 to 1988 the lake was in beautiful control. It had one of the best fishing populations ever, and no one, I repeat, no one has ever documented any harm from the herbicide program. I’d love to have them challenge me on that statement.” And, even after a 25 year gap in Chautauqua Lake herbicide use, the County determined herbicides acceptable in more than 50% of 288 zones into which it divided the lake its 2017 MMS.

The CLA has cut and harvested weeds for 65 years from 1952 to present and weed cutting has been used almost exclusively since 1992. Although we believe environmental impact-mitigated weed cutting will, with targeted use of herbicides, be necessary for years to come, it’s obvious the “one size fits all” 25 year weed cutting experiment has not met the needs of property owners, lake users or the lake itself.

¯ Acceptance that near- and mid-term as well as long-term approaches are all needed As indicated by Mr. Ward, reduction/elimination of cyanobacteria (algal) blooms is closely related to phosphorus availability. In fact, all agree the root cause of excessive weed and algae growth in Chautauqua Lake is an excessive nutrient load, primarily the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen. The EPA and NYS DEC measured and estimated nutrient loads in their 2012 Total Maximum Daily Load for Phosphorus in Chautauqua Lake (TMDL) and set required nutrient reductions from all significant sources. Unfortunately, there is no active implementation of initiatives to reduce phosphorus in the lake bottom sediments, which represent 54% of the required reductions. Progress, mostly voluntary, is being made reducing phosphorus from agriculture, 25% of the required reductions, although it’s not clear how that progress relates to the reduction requirement. Improvements in the phosphorus removal capacity of the three larger sewage treatment plants on the lake, mandated by the DEC, are expected to address most of that 8% TMDL reduction requirement by midyear 2018. Other popular initiatives: shoreline buffers, elimination of phosphorus based lawn fertilizers, stream bank stabilization, removal of land from development, etc., represent but a portion of the required 5% Developed Land reduction, of limited value without reduction of the other three sources.

So, unless internal loading, agriculture and treatment plant phosphorus, which account for 87% of the required reductions, are aggressively reduced, it will be decades and likely longer, until acceptable levels of phosphorus are attained in Chautauqua Lake. Until acceptable levels are attained, short and mid-term tools, weed cutting/harvesting, herbicides and, possibly, algaecides, will be necessary.

Mr. Ward’s preference for County-led and long term approaches may appear logical and “look good on paper”. However, they have proven themselves to be ineffective for Chautauqua Lake. On the contrary, the Partnership’s “grassroots” approach, where property owners and lake users are represented by their local Town and Village governments, was proven effective in Bemus Bay in the summer of 2017 and in a much larger portion of the lake in fall 2017 and continuing. And, with an understanding of the time horizon on current nutrient reduction initiatives, it’s clear that a full suite of near- and mid-term weed and algae management tools will be necessary.

Dr. Tom Erlandson (biology) and Dr. Doug Neckers (chemistry) are science advisors to the Chautauqua Lake Partnership. Jim Wehrfritz is the Chautauqua Lake Partnership’s vice president. Dr. Jim Cirbus is the Chautauqua Lake Partnership’s president and Mike Latone is the partnership’s treasurer.