Time To Deal With Lake’s Big Issues

Looking out over Chautauqua Lake at Burtis Bay, it is difficult to understand how it has been allowed to get this way. The Chautauqua Lake Association (CLA), the self-appointed “Stewards of Chautauqua Lake,” and county and state government have let us down. Thick, green, solidly-packed weeds growing several inches above the surface of the water have rendered this area of Chautauqua Lake unusable for every purpose. The narrow paths mowed through the green mass by CLA’s weed harvesters show that effectively managing weeds in this way is as impossible as trying to bail the lake with a bucket.

It is against this backdrop that the Chautauqua Institution (Institution) has filed suit against the New York State (NYS) DEC, the Town of Ellery and the Chautauqua Lake Partnership to nullify the recently completed Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and remove the ability to use herbicide treatments in any part of Chautauqua Lake. It is clearly a despicable and selfish action.

At the institution, as well as in Maple Springs (where other supporters of the institution lawsuit with ties to the institution live) the lake becomes deep so quickly that weeds are not a problem and herbicides are not needed. No trace of DEC- permitted herbicides were found at the Chautauqua Institution drinking water intake in 2017 or 2018. So, how could the institution consider themselves to be a good neighbor and take such an unnecessary, off-point legal action against the people from an area of the lake where weed harvesting has failed and that need herbicides so desperately?

The institution says it initiated the lawsuit because it “wants to start a dialog”, but the institution has been part of the exhaustive NYS SEQRA process dialog. The institution is simply unhappy and frustrated the regulatorily-mandated process did not produce the result the institution desired.

Perhaps the institution wants to convince its residents that they are taking a strong action to keep their water supply safe, and their lawsuit gives them cover for their lack of action. It is the toxin from harmful algae blooms that caused Institution water use restrictions in September 2017. Restrictions had nothing to do with herbicides.

Weeds and harmful algae blooms are two separate and distinct problems. It makes no sense to delay effective weed management with proven and DEC-permitted technology, awaiting a solution to the harmful algae bloom challenge. Harmful algae blooms are fed by the high concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen in Chautauqua Lake. The Total Maximum Daily Load for Phosphorus in Chautauqua Lake (TMDL) study done by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the NYSDEC in 2012 (one of so many studies) reported that 54% of the nutrients which needed to be reduced were in the geo- and vegetative sediments at the bottom of the lake. Agricultural runoff, another 25% reduction, is already being addressed. All other sources of nutrients in the lake such as stormwater runoff make up a very small percentage of what the TMDL has identified as needed reductions in Chautauqua Lake’s nutrient problem.

The ironic part of the Institution’s actions and its water supply problems is that the Institution’s sewer effluent discharge was one of, if not the largest, contributor to the lake’s nutrients for over a century to the in-lake nutrient problem. If Chautauqua Institution really wants to be part of the lake’s solution, their focus needs to shift from lawsuits and the popular but minimally effective “rain gardens” to the very real and major lake bottom nutrient source.

Whether or not the nutrients in the lake were from sewage facilities that were permitted and were knowingly discharged into the lake, the fact remains that the nutrients are present in the bottom sediment of Chautauqua Lake. Remediation is necessary, and the Institution should be identifying and funding effective solutions to address the role they have played in creating this ecological nightmare.

Paul Johnson is a resident of Bemus Point

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