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Alliance, Institution Partner On Lake Panel

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance shifted its first ever Water Quality Research Panel online in July with the help of Chautauqua Institution’s Virtual Porch.

The discussion, which included scientists from Bowling Green State University, The Jefferson Project at Lake George and State University of New York at Fredonia, can be found online for free by visiting chautauquaalliance.org/news/2020-cl-water-quality-research-panel/.

Topics included lake thermal stratification and implications for internal nutrient loading, drone surveillance of harmful algal blooms (HABs), phosphorus and nitrogen loading from the lake and watershed, and the use of integrated science and technology to understand lake dynamics and guide innovative solutions for lake protection and restoration.

“We were very fortunate that Chautauqua Institution through their Front Porch program, how they are reaching out to their assembly this year, offered the platform which we took advantage of,” Alliance interim director Vince Horrigan said. “We are very thankful for Chautauqua doing that. We had a lot of good scientists talking about everything from macrophyte management, weed management, and also harmful algal blooms. So it was a very exciting opportunity for us.”

Panelists conducting water quality research include Dr. Courtney Wigdahl-Perry and MaryAnn Mason from the State University of New York at Fredonia; Dr. George Bullerjahn, Dr. Timothy Davis and Jay DeMarco from Bowling Green State University; and Dr. Rick Relyea, Dr. Harry Kolar and Eric Siy from The Jefferson Project at Lake George.

Following presentations from the researchers, there was a question-and-answer period for the public to express their concerns.

“A lot of comments were very supportive of the overall approach and the content of the panel,” Alliance project manager Randall Perry said.

Important questions raised included the internal nutrient loading of the lake, how that impacts macrophyte growth and algal blooms, as well as the potential impact of climate change water quality.

“The researchers really wanted to focus in on the water quality piece, that is really where the main research is happening in this particular case,” Perry said. “They are approaching the same problem from multiple angles which is really critical when it comes to complex situations like Chautauqua Lake.”

Following along with increased public concern and effort to manage HABs, Davis and Bullerjahn of Bowling Green addressed rapid-testing solutions, which can be used to identify algal blooms that pose a threat to people and animals using the lake.

An overarching goal of the science panel was to inform the public on the scientific methodology being used to gather data on the lake, and to address subjectivity and bias in the ongoing debate over lake management.

“People talk with other people and they hear certain views, certain opinions. That generates cause and effect, in other words–because of this, this happens,” Horrigan said. “The Chautauqua Lake complex aquatic environment, plant environment, weather, all of these things play into a situation where you cannot identify immediate cause and effect. What really is critical to us is the science behind Chautauqua Lake. That we can gather proper data, do proper analysis by researchers, and then be able to make decisions.”

While it is tempting and understandable for different parties involved to look for direct correlations and conclusions between lake conditions and management strategies, hearing from knowledgeable researchers often paints a much different picture.

“Direct observation, and observations from multiple locations on the lake at different times and from people with different lake end-use priorities, that is all really important for us to continue to monitor and keep track of,” Perry said. “It is also important to compartmentalize those parts of lake management from a responsible and thorough utilization of properly-collected and properly-interpreted and comprehensive-enough data and long-term monitoring. Those two things, while they are both working towards similar end goals, are very very different processes in terms of approach and time frame to properly implement. You can never ever ever, with natural systems, eliminate uncertainty. Uncertainty can only be reduced. One of the things that good, thorough, collaborative, scientific research does is it works away at trying to reduce that uncertainty in key areas to a place where one can make valid and evidence-based decisions. Anybody that wants to jump immediately to a conclusion of, this caused this, often times isn’t fully appreciative of the complexity of the situation.”

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