New Sewer Plant Construction Underway At Chautauqua

This is the time of year for big news at Chautauqua Institution. A new season is beginning and the 2016 summer program will soon be in full swing.

However, the biggest news at Chautauqua, at least as far as the lake is concerned, is the beginning of construction of a tertiary sewage treatment plant which will reduce phosphate and nitrogen discharges into the lake. Two years ago, the property owners of Chautauqua voted to spend up to $8 million on an upgraded sewage treatment facility. It is now beginning to take shape. This new plant will bring the Institution into compliance with state DEC discharge standards required by June, 2018.

Some ask: “Why, if we have banned phosphates in soaps and detergents, do we still have to worry about discharges of phosphates into the lake?” The quick answer is that 75 percent of the phosphorus in sewage comes from our toilets, 2/3 coming from human urine. Flushing the toilet just moves it downstream. Septic systems won’t take it out. That is why we need upgraded sewage treatment plants and an integrated sewage system to include the whole lake.

It has always amazed me how little attention the public gives to this kind of infrastructure. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Yet, when we run our disposals, brush our teeth or flush our toilets it goes some place. How it gets treated is important. Kudos should go to Chautauqua for “biting the bullet” and investing in this new technology which will help clean up the lake.

That, of course, brings up the topic of what is going on in other places around the lake. There are still 12 miles of shoreline which have no public sewers. The other publically-owned plants that are treating lake-bound sewage are under a similar state order to clean up their effluent, and efforts are being made to meet the deadline.

Progress is being made on addressing the need for sewers around the lake. Studies have been completed, engineering estimates have been made and State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) plans are being drawn up. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we know that building major infrastructure takes time.

However, we should celebrate when actual construction on these unseen infrastructure improvements begins to happen. Lewis Miller, one of the original founders of Chautauqua Institution, led the way in making Chautauqua the first municipality in the country to require that every property be connected to a common sewer system. That tradition continues today. Chautauqua should be commended for its action in building a new state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant.

Now, the rest of us who live around the lake need to follow suit and finish the job of building sewers and improving sewage treatment so that the whole lake is covered.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.