‘Zooming In’

CWC Conducts Shoreline Buffer Assessment

Installing vegetative buffers is an easy way to provide wildlife habitat, control or prevent erosion, mitigate flooding, remove pollutants, protect and enhance water quality and lower water filtration costs. Photo by Jane Conroe

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has been advocating for the establishment of buffers along waterbodies for decades. A “buffer” refers to a vegetated section of land that is set aside along a lake, stream or wetland in order to protect the sensitive habitats that are often found in these areas. Many of the nation’s lakes and streams have been negatively impacted from the loss of vegetative buffers, including ours here in Chautauqua County.

Installing buffers is an easy way to provide wildlife habitat, control or prevent erosion, mitigate flooding, remove pollutants, protect and enhance water quality and lower water filtration costs. Natural shorelines are best, which is why CWC has worked to conserve thousands of feet of Chautauqua Lake and Outlet shoreline in its natural state. There is also a lot we can do on our own property to restore the shoreline and provide the benefits mentioned above.

Because buffers are so important, CWC sought an analysis of the current length of buffered shoreline on Chautauqua Lake. Using funding awarded from the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, CWC staff conducted an assessment using aerial/satellite imagery in a Geographic Information System (GIS). Using ArcMap software, the total length of a variety of shoreline conditions was estimated. Chautauqua Lake’s shoreline was classified as either mown or eroded, stone or concrete break wall, boat launch or vegetative buffer (either a natural or manmade buffer). This was done by scanning aerial and satellite imagery of the Lake and “zooming in” as closely as possible in the GIS to assess and categorize the shoreline condition. Through highlighting these areas, the GIS software was able to calculate the length of each type, which was compiled and summarized in a map as well as a data table.

The extent of buffered lakeshore amounted to a little over 14 miles. The extent of lakeshore that lacked buffer (which includes mown or eroded shores, break walls, rock walls and boat launches) amounted to just under 30 miles. Currently, vegetative buffers make up more than one-third of Chautauqua Lake’s shoreline, while rock walls and break walls make up nearly one-half.

Much has been done to improve the shoreline of Chautauqua Lake. Many landowners are installing buffer strips, changing lawn care practices and generally working to enhance the vibrancy and health of their properties. There is more attention being paid to the health and water quality in the Lake than in years before, and all of this is adding up to positive results for the Lake’s environmental health, which has, in turn, a direct impact on the health and economic prosperity of all who live in Chautauqua County.

Despite the good work being done, the analysis conducted by CWC suggests that more buffers are needed. Enhancing and expanding existing buffers where possible would also be a good positive step forward. Water quality in Chautauqua Lake starts at the highest elevations around the Lake, where water begins to drain over land and into the tributaries that feed it. In a previous Watershed Notes article, I noted that a watershed needs to consist of a minimum 60% forest/wetland cover in order to maintain water quality and that more was needed to enhance water quality. While not directly comparable, the state of existing buffers at around one-third of the Lake is not likely to be sufficient in regard to enhancing the water quality of Chautauqua Lake. When viewing the map created as an output of the GIS analysis, it is clear that there are large areas of the Lake’s shoreline that are almost entirely encapsulated in concrete. The creation of natural buffers in such locations would go a long way toward reversing the trend of declining water quality.

For more information on creating lakeshore buffers or advice on lawn care practices that would benefit local waterways, contact the CWC at info@chautauquawatershed.org.

Jonathan Townsend is a Conservation Biologist at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, co-owner of Royal Fern Nursery, former CWC Conservation Lands Manager and local bat expert.

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.