Land Conservation

Eight Tools For Watershed Protection

The Naetzker Forest Preserve provides clean waters to Goose Creek and Chautauqua Lake. Photo by CWC

The lakes and streams in Chautauqua County have been impacted for decades by human uses in the landscapes which “shed” water to them. These waterways are some of our most valuable assets, and they need your action to protect them! How is your community managing your watershed? Is your lake destined for accelerated degradation due to continual loss of open space to development?

The “Eight Tools of Watershed Protection in Developing Areas” promoted by the USEPA provides a framework for communities to follow in managing their valuable water resources. In order to be successful, communities must engage all levels of government and all types of property owners and service providers in employing practices and policies to protect water resources. The NYSDEC or USEPA isn’t going to do it for us. In short, it is up to each and every one of us to manage our lives, homes, grounds and businesses to protect our life-giving waters.

People often make the assumption that, as long as an area has public wastewater treatment, lake and stream water quality is protected. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The Center for Watershed Protection and others have shown that the percentage of impervious cover in a watershed is strongly correlated to the degradation of stream structure, habitat loss, poor water quality and higher frequency of flooding.

More development leads to more water pollution and degraded lake and stream conditions, even if wastewater treatment systems are in place. Conversely, the larger the percentage of forest cover in a watershed, the higher the quality of the waters in that watershed.

The EPA’s “Eight Tools of Watershed Protection” are listed.

1. Land Use Planning

2. Land Conservation

3. Aquatic Buffers

4. Better Site Design

5. Erosion and Sediment Control

6. Stormwater Best Management Practices

7. Non-Stormwater Discharges

8. Watershed Stewardship Programs.

According to the EPA’s Watershed Academy online training module, these tools lay out steps that generally correspond to the stages of development as a community or watershed is developed. It also states that “a watershed manager will generally need to apply some form of all eight tools in every watershed to provide comprehensive protection.”

Tool No. 2 is land conservation. Research indicates that we must keep the lands (watersheds) contributing waters to our lakes and streams at a level of 70% or more in natural forests if we are to maintain the quality of water and ecology of our waterways. Residential and commercial lawns act more like concrete in generating runoff than pre-development forest land.

If we want Chautauqua Lake to be healthy in the future, we must conserve and restore well-functioning forests and wetlands to a minimum 70% of our watershed lands. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy as a land trust is working to conserve those lands most essential to our lake and stream health across Chautauqua County. CWC works with landowners to conserve lands by accepting donations of lands that meet its conservation criteria, purchasing key sites and acquiring conservation easements from landowners, which allow landowners to maintain ownership and use of the land while at the same time protecting it from uses which could harm its ecological, water quality and scenic attributes. Municipalities can implement land conservation laws which prohibit or minimize development and disturbance of wetlands, floodplains and stream corridors. The EPA lists these types of lands as targets for land conservation: critical habitats, aquatic corridors, hydrological reserves (forest and other open space areas that are important for feeding large amounts of clean water to a waterway) and cultural areas (important habitats for people such as historic sites, trails and water access points such as boat launches, scenic landscapes, etc.).

The need for a well-funded, effective land conservation program to conserve the health of Chautauqua Lake is even more important as global warming increases the frequency of high precipitation storms, whose impacts can be attenuated by conserving and restoring forest land with the capacity to trap and absorb heavy rainfall and to reduce downstream flooding, stream erosion and pollution. I encourage you to get on board with this for clean water and to read the training modules on the eight tools at epa.gov/watershedacademy. For more information on conserving your land, contact the CWC or visit our website.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.

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