Beware Of Ecological Emotionalism Regarding Chautauqua Lake

In a perfect world, Chautauqua Lake would still be untouched by human beings. But years of misuse by humans — raw sewage dumped in the Lake by home owners and even Chautauqua Institution — have thoroughly disturbed its ecosystem.

I own a home on Bemus Bay and only 15 years or so ago we hauled out a heavy iron pipe that had been used to move sewage from the other side of Lakeside Drive into the Lake in front of my home.

My permanent home is near Toledo and virtually every summer day those who provide drinking water from Lake Erie are in front of the public assuring all that our water is safe to drink. Unfortunately, sewage overflow from Detroit still is an issue for Lake Erie.

But, for every action there can be a logical and sensible reaction. Many depend on Erie, Chautauqua and thousands of other lakes across the United States for clean water for various uses including drinking. Thus enters chemical treatment of water sources and water supplies. Anyone ever hear of chlorine-based purification of water for drinking?

The economic dominance of agriculture that is the American Midwest is owed to herbicides. The herbicide 2, 4 – D, the active ingredient in Navigate, a herbicide recently used in Bemus Bay, has been used since WWII and is one of these agricultural herbicides. It’s used in hundreds of products worldwide. For certain weed species, including Eurasian Water Milfoil, its application causes weeds to “grow themselves to death.”

Agricultural economists and many others tell us how valuable farming is to our communities and our nation. Farmers don’t just kill harmful weeds and insects with chemicals.

They fertilize crop growth with chemicals. Chemical use to address our problems, including those which man has created in Chautauqua Lake, include a balance of benefits and risk. A variety of chemicals are used in the process at sewage treatment plants discharging into Chautauqua Lake.

I expect most Chautauqua Lake groups are trying to make it a better Lake for all the uses humans have for it. But the Chautauqua Lake Partnership is the first in my 67 years on the Lake which has actually addressed the problems of “weeds” logically and systematically, using existing proven and permitted technology and without ecological emotion.

I’m a Chautauqua County native, a PhD organic chemist who has taught and conducted research for 45+ years in two universities and one college (Hope College). I’ve published over 400 scientific research papers and hold over 70 patents.

I have mentored 37 young PhD students in my labs at Bowling Green State University. One of my Hope College students became one of the leading United Nations’ experts on nuisance pest eradication in an African country for which he was awarded many honors. Every teacher loves to brag about their students and I’m no exception. These young men and women are leading lights of American science from Maine to California and beyond.

I’ve seen several local science teachers debate the application of herbicides. That debate only makes sense if in the context of the reality that this Lake, our Lake, has been and continues to be severely damaged by generations of human action and, more recently, inaction. As any scientist knows, there may be side effects to the use of chemicals. Take any medication and the package insert will have many paragraphs of potential side effects.

See medications advertised on television and listen to a multitude of frightening possible complications, though each is extremely rare. Even the reduction of nitrogen to ammonia in 1913, heralded by everyone because it was so ingenious, led to a new process for converting ammonia to nitric acid from which came TNT and nitroglycerin which fed World War I’s Guns of August.

Citizens must listen carefully to those that have studied, evaluated, proven and regulated herbicide use. Ecological emotionalism, sprinkled with a little bit of data, which we’ve seen from Chautauqua Lake herbicide opponents, makes no sense and does not contribute to a solution.

Such emotionalism prevented the building of the bridge from Bemus Point to Stow for many years but now, several decades later, nary a soul worries about the extremely limited disturbance of fish habitat the bridge piers disturbed.

And, such emotionalism has prevented a weed management tool used effectively all over the United States and accepted in the County’s Macrophyte Management Strategy from improving our Lake for the last 25 years. Twenty-five years is much, much longer than necessary for this unintended “experiment” to run its course and prove itself a failure.

Douglas Neckers, PhD

McMaster Distinguished Research Professor (emeritus)

67 year Chautauqua Lake resident