Chautauqua Lake Needs More Science, Less Emotion

Everyone concerned with Chautauqua Lake’s stewardship and optimum management agrees on the basics: The lake is 17.3 miles from end to end, has a maximum depth of 75 feet and spans 42 miles of shoreline. The lake drains 33 streams and 10 major watersheds and 10,500 people rely on the lake, through its two water districts, for drinking, washing and cooking water.

In short, it is an enormous, cross-jurisdictional body of water where multiple recreational, economic, governmental and tourism interests intersect and, in some cases, compete. The lake is best beheld as a whole, with everyone’s broad best interests in mind, benefiting most residents.

Focusing, emotionally, on the health of one bay, one cove or one small recreational area risks upsetting this sensible model.

That’s why we think it’s time to take parochial emotion out of the debate on managing the lake, stop hearing what’s best for an elite minority, and replace it with scientific fact and decades-long, proven stewardship. This stewardship by multiple lake management groups has had positive results, limited only by the lack of funds to do more. We at the Chautauqua Lake Association have spent more than 65 years perfecting plant harvesting and other management methods. This has been a constantly improving process and will remain as such whenever possible going forward.

Regrettably, the recently revived Chautauqua Lake Partnership makes bold assertions that are often incomplete, mostly incorrect and generally simply evidence to be grievances.

For instance, its proponents argue that negative impacts of harvesting aquatic plans are ignored. In fact, all lake planning groups and regulators repeatedly reviewed the pros and cons and concluded harvesting should continue. Most recently, the Chautauqua Lake Macrophyte Management Strategy report from March 2017 by the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development stated: “Mechanical harvesting is an acceptable technique for the management of rooted aquatic plants in Chautauqua Lake.”

Further, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Governor’s Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan agree, and apply the same management plan to 11 other key New York State lakes.

Another CLP flare recently went up about a fish kill in a limited area of the lake, Burtis Bay, in October and November, beginning five weeks after harvesting ended and continuing on for a month. The CLP tied this unfortunate occurrence to harvesting. This is false linkage that fails to recognize impacts from other lake activities and conditions, along with exaggerating what occurred in a small percentage of the lake’s 13,422 acres.

No current-day studies exist to demonstrate this alleged linkage. CLP officials continued on to say that harvesting is responsible for removing millions of small fish from the lake. This too is false, as anyone inspecting harvested plants is free to see all summer when they are brought ashore. No current-day studies say otherwise.

The CLP further alleges that the CLA’s efforts aren’t updated or improved over time. Again, false. The CLA constantly assesses its operations and makes improvements when scientific experts endorse them and they are financially realistic. In fact, constant improvements over the years often resulted from CLA officials attending state and national lake stewardship conferences, where best practices are discussed and evaluated. Lake stewards from around the state and nation seek information from the CLA on successful lake maintenance.

Another CLP false claim is that the CLA opposes the use of any herbicides. There’s no doubt that for a lake supplying drinking water to more than 10,000 people, widely recreated in and that is dependent upon a world-class fishery, herbicide is not choice No. 1. Even so, CLA does not oppose carefully planned and effectively applied herbicides. The methodology must be better, however, than what’s transpired recently.

Finally, let’s return to sound science, think from 30,000 feet about what’s best for the entire lake, the drinking water it supplies, the economic development and jobs it supports, what it needs to be healthy and look to the future together. What’s best for Chautauqua Lake as the whole will continue to be our approach as we implement programs serving the whole lake.

Paul O. Stage is Chautauqua Lake Association board president. Douglas Conroe is Chautauqua Lake Association executive director/CEO.