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Lake Alliance Offers Different Perspective On Water Conditions

The Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance has a very different perspective of the lake than the people raising complaints about the quality of Chautauqua Lake.

Randall Perry, the Alliance’s executive director, said the organization is comprised of over 20 different lake and watershed groups that are working hard on various lake and watershed projects.

“Our membership consists of a very broad spectrum of lake users and lake managers,” he said.

Following growing concerns by lake consultants, business owners and local residents, Perry offered his perspective on the condition of the lake.

“When things like this come into the news, they are very important to us to wrap our minds around and try to figure out exactly what’s being said, what’s driving those comments, what kind of data sets and what kind of observations do we have access to that can help to objectively inform the situation from our end.”

Despite mounting criticism, Perry said the Alliance facilitated a “comprehensive” lake management program during the 2022 season and incorporated a variety of management techniques. He said the Alliance started early in the season with large debris cleanup and early season harvesting, as well as state approved herbicide treatments. Perry described 2022 as a “long season” that lasted from May to September.

Regarding the Burtis Bay challenges, Perry said the location is one of “several high use” and “high awareness” areas across the lake. While different areas of the lake often present unique challenges, the Burtis Bay region presents a distinct challenge for the Alliance to manage.

“The lower south basin is unique in that it’s at the end of the lake,” Perry said. “It processes the things that are growing and the activities that are going on all throughout the lake, all the way from the northern end to the southern end. It’s the last stop before the outlet, so it has a tendency to be a collection area and a depositional area in certain spots, especially in Burtis Bay.”

According to Perry, the Alliance is currently working with its various member groups to diagnose the problem. The present shoreline conditions near Burtis Bay could be the result of multiple factors, requiring a thorough examination and approach to the issue.

Perry said the first step is to examine the frequency and the effectiveness of the interventions and techniques used throughout the 2022 season. By doing this, the Alliance can determine adjustments to the methods moving forward.

“The logistics of lake management for a 13,000-acre lake can be quite complicated,” he said. “There’s a lot of people looking at types of equipment, the amount of equipment, other logistical considerations like offload areas, staging areas for equipment and opportunities to make adjustments that can help have a more positive impact on that part of the lake.”

Perry said the organization is also considering different ways to attract new lake management partners, as well as fostering cooperation between the Alliance’s members.

As the condition of the lake continues to attract attention and concern, Perry said a variety of techniques are “on the table,” including offshore booms, physical controls on source management and prevention of weed fragmentation.

While various techniques have been discussed, Perry believes it is too early to determine which techniques should be implemented next year to address water quality issues with the lake. He stressed the importance of waiting for observational data to confirm which techniques should be used in the future to make improvements to the lake and the watershed.

“I’m afraid it’s too early from my perspective to suggest one particular or even two or three particular methods that should be done,” he said. “Several of the key data sets that we, as local stakeholders, tend to have available to us don’t really close the books and make public the findings until later on in the year or even into early next year.”

The Alliance is currently waiting to receive information on the plant surveys performed this year, the state’s harmful algal bloom tracking system and the citizen statewide lake assessment program administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Although a considerable portion of this year’s data is not yet available, Perry said the lake displayed both hopeful signs and challenging times over the course of this year.

“It was a challenging year in terms of some of the algal blooms that presented later in the summer,” he said.” However, he added, “A lot of the reports from the northern basin, especially the lake characteristics, were trending towards pretty good conditions for the year.

As the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance continues to make improvements to the lake, Perry said one of the challenges is organizing and combining all of the available data and surveys so that effective solutions can be implemented.

Perry also addressed the criticism and concerns of local residents.

“I think dialogue and sharing not only data and numbers but also observations and expectations is a really important part of lake management,” he said. “Lake management is not just the technical side, it’s also the social side. This lake means a lot to a lot of people, whether it’s individuals in their homes, businesses, the governmental leaders who manage the municipalities, the anglers, the recreationalists who come for motor boating or kayaking or water skiing, this lake has a huge array of users and uses.”

Perry said it is not unexpected to find local residents with different opinions and perspectives on the lake conditions, due to the importance of Chautauqua Lake to the entire county. While he believes it is important to acknowledge the work that is being implemented on the lake, he welcomes the public’s input.

“We absolutely want to hear these things that are said whether good or bad,” he said. “We want to be open to hearing all of it and then we want to engage and bring the right people to the table to then work out what improvements could be made.”

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