County Budget Needs To Bring Lake Issue Forward

Herbicide treatments on Chautauqua Lake have been completed for this year.

There will never be agreement on the use of herbicides on the lake amongst all county residents and lake-related organizations. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, however, seems satisfied with the safeguards over the use of herbicides on the lake and the types of herbicides that have been proposed for use. If the DEC is on board with adding herbicides to the list of possible remedies for lake weeds — and possibly, in the future, to help treat cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms — then so be it. That should be the end of the discussion. The fact that the DEC cut some 800 acres from the initial requested herbicide treatment area should be a sign that the DEC is not a rubber stamp organization that will allow unabated herbicide treatment in areas sensitive to drinking water needs or wildlife.

Now is the time for the discussion of herbicides on Chautauqua Lake to move beyond use of herbicides so that a more important consensus can be formed on the type of yearly program on Chautauqua Lake needs to meet the needs of fishermen, landowners and conservationists. That’s a difficult task, because sometimes there isn’t even a broad consensus amongst the types of lake groups what should be done, and because there are still planning and discussion efforts ongoing through the Chautauqua Lake Watershed and Management Alliance to condense all of the previous lake plans and guidance documents into a series of steps that organizations can begin taking. Add into the mix the state-led planning effort that is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Harmful Algal Bloom summit. Creating a workable lake plan will take some time.

An intermediate step can be taken now, however, if the Chautauqua County Legislature so desires in advance of County Executive George Borrello’s 2019 executive budget proposal. The county budgeted $652,864 in 2018 from the 2 percent of occupancy tax funding earmarked for lakes and waterways. Of that money, $129,500 was spent on waterways, harvesting and shoreline cleanup. Another $10,000 was spent on enhancement and protection of Chautauqua Lake. Another $218,864 was spent on outside contracts.

We have no way of knowing if that $652,864 is enough money for lakes and waterways or if more money is needed because much of the watershed work is handled by private organizations. If lake organizations want county money, then lake organizations should either meet with legislators or submit in writing their request for funding before Borrello prepares his budget. This would eliminate last-minute requests for Chautauqua Lake-related maintenance money, as has happened last fall and again this spring; and provide the public with a clear overview of what is proposed on Chautauqua Lake and the rest of the county’s bodies of waters in 2019. Perhaps a note from Dave McCoy, county watershed coordinator, can be included with the 2 percent occupancy tax budget explaining how the spending meets the county’s watershed needs and how all of the organizations are feeding into the overall plan.

There are a lot of well-meaning people working on Chautauqua Lake and a lot of opinions about the best path forward. Perhaps the 2019 county budget can be a step toward bringing some order and clarity to the process of maintaining Chautauqua Lake.