‘Tools In The Toolbox’

Groups Tout Variety Of Plans, Hopes For Chautauqua Lake

Incoming County Executive George Borrello said Chautauqua Lake remains one of his top priorities as he assumes office. Borrello also said he would like to “educate the folks around the lake” and engage with local homeowners. P-J photo by Katrina Fuller

2018 is already shaping up to be a big year for Chautauqua Lake, according to area officials and organization leaders whom tout the lake as a local gem for the community and tourism.

Incoming County Executive George Borrello said the lake remains one of his top priorities. He said this year, he would like to not only focus on what the county can do, but also for those closest to the lake.

“I want to educate the folks around the lake on what they can do to participate with things like buffer zones,” he said. “We want to continue to engage landowners on the tributaries leading to the lake on better land management policies. These are all the tools we have in our toolbox.”

The sewer district is also another project Borrello said he would like to see completed in the future. He said it will ultimately be up to the organizations around the lake through the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Alliance to determine the methods used in the upcoming year, whether it is herbicides, weed cutting or other solutions.

Borrello said the county is looking at the situation from the long-view.

P-J file photo

“What are we going to do to ensure the quality of this lake for many years to come?” he asked. “That’s where I think our time is going to be best spent. It’s a combination, a balanced approach of long-term and short-term tools and goals.”

Borrello said the possibility of a lake district is a good idea because it will “super charge” the ability to fund water-quality projects and groups. He said he believes the alliance will be the “sounding board” for all the organizations.

“I feel for the concerned citizens that are worried about the short-term impacts, so I’m hoping that we can get everybody at the table with the alliance and the county acting as kind of the moderator, and we can do constructive things,” Borrello said. “Ultimately, any time spent on anything other than meaningful discussion is time wasted, so I’m hoping to have meaningful discussion that leads to good solutions and collaborations with all those agencies, interested parties and stakeholders.”

Jim Wehrfritz, Chautauqua Lake Partnership vice president, said the partnership is gearing up for a variety of actions this year. Wehrfritz said the group currently has a website, located at chqlake.org.

“We are out there now,” he said.

Wehrfritz said the organization is hoping to work on shoreline and near-shore clean-up, improving equipment and begin to expand lake-wide. The group is also hoping to focus on community outreach. This year, 10 communities have organized for 2018, and the partnership has received support by many towns and villages.

The group hopes to restore the lake bottom and reduce nutrient food through a Bemus Bay Restoration Demonstration Project. Wehrfritz said in some areas there is up to 7 feet of decomposing weeds on the lake bottom.

“This is a vegetative mass that is smothering the lake-bottom ecosystem, and is feeding the weeds and algae with decomposition nutrients,” he said. “We’re going to talk a little bit more about this on a macro scale. The implications of this are much more significant than Bemus Bay.

Wehrfritz said the organization wants to reduce the nutrients making their way into the lake as well.

“If you really want to work the weed and algae problem in the lake, you’ve got to reduce the phosphorus and nitrogen that’s coming into the lake and that’s in the lake already,” he said. “The 2012 Total Maximum Daily Load study set phosphorus reduction requirements for each of the sources.

“It looked at all of these and measured and estimated the contributions of them to the lake, and then it identified by looking at the available technology what could be done.”

The report said agriculture is 25 percent of the required reductions; 55 percent of the reductions are from what is called “internal loading,” which is an accumulation of phosphorus in the sediments of the lake.

“If you don’t work the big ones, we don’t think you’re ever going to get there,” he said. “You have to get the stuff off the bottom. Some people call it ‘dredging,’ we don’t.”

Wehrfritz said it may have to be permitted like dredging.

The partnership is also waiting on the State University of New York Regional Institute to do a $50,000 study on the economic potential of the lake with improved water quality.

“That’s additional commercial development, property value, etc.,” Wehrfritz said.

At this point, Wehrfritz said the organization needs county and state support of the projects.

“As far as we can tell, we’re the only significant source of new lake improvement ideas and solutions,” he said. “The partnership is self-funded.”

Currently, the partnership has self-funded $375,000 with no direct county or state funding. Wehrfritz said the county funding was limited to $15,000 in 2017.

“That we had to go through the Chautauqua Lake Alliance to get, and it was very difficult,” he said. “We got $15,000 out of $100,000.”

No funding was received from New York state.

Doug Conroe, Chautauqua Lake Association executive director, said the association has several programs that will continue the improvement of services for the community. In 2017, the association piloted a program which used a mechanized floating vegetation collector called “Toothless,” which was used as a skimmer.

“That experience resulted in our evolving to a more specialized skimmer for which we are currently seeking funding in order to be able to construct units and place them into service,” Conroe said. “Thanks to special funding found by Sen. Cathy Young, Chautauqua County is now in the process of obtaining the unit that we designed and hope to be able to utilize in 2018. This new generation of floating vegetation collection equipment has already proven to be more efficient, able to store and transport more materials than other methods and enables us to serve more areas than in the past.”

The association is also rehabilitating and readying harvest equipment for another season. Conroe said scientific monitoring programs will continue to look at water quality, which are programs no other organization performs.

“The results of our monitoring will be utilized for future lake management for achievement monitoring in regard to the state imposed TMDL nutrient control program and for the issuance of public health advisories by public officials during times of harmful algal blooms,” Conroe said.

Conroe said Harmful Algal Blooms are a “serious threat to public health. In 2018, the association has designed a program to mitigate the presence of the Harmful Algal Blooms, and will continue the HAB monitoring program to keep health agencies up-to-date on the conditions.

The organization will also focus on outreach, with the Finance and Community Relations Manager position will be retitled as the Finance and Outreach Manager to emphasize the importance of public outreach activity.

Conroe said the “greatest challenge” is funding.

“Chautauqua Lake maintenance has been under-funded for years which has resulted in some lake problems not being able to be overcome,” he said. “I now see new interest forming in the community for doing what is needed to address lake funding needs. We are going to our funding entities with a plan for filling in the lake maintenance gaps, (and) if those entities respond as we hope they will, the community will see again that the Chautauqua Lake Association can meet the lake’s maintenance needs.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed an investment of $65 million to fight algal blooms across the state, with Chautauqua Lake being one of the possible priority lakes.

“Protecting water quality is a top priority and through these actions and funding, we are providing direct assistance to communities to ensure their water resources remain clean,” Cuomo said. “This comprehensive program will continue New York’s national leadership in responding to the threat of harmful algal blooms and implement new and innovative strategies to safeguard our clean water for future generations.”