An Arena Where Politics Meet Science

Last fall, a report was issued by Princeton Hydro, an independent third-party environmental firm hired by the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance (“the Alliance”) to evaluate the status of Chautauqua Lake after its second annual herbicide treatment was completed this past summer. I wrote, in this column, that the report was generally positive, the lake was in relatively good shape, and that the herbicide treatment had generally had good results (weed reduction) in areas where it was applied but that native weed species were also coming back. The report also recommended some additional monitoring and possible changes that might be applied in any future herbicide applications.

Recently, the Chautauqua Lake Association Commissioned another “third-party” study by Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists which concluded nearly the opposite–that the herbicide treatment had been a failure and that the South Basin of the Lake where herbicide had been applied was in deep trouble. This report was titled: “Radical Detrimental Changes in Chautauqua Lake.” It was an apocalyptic warning implying that some kind of intervention was needed to save the South Basin.

The study concluded that everything was good and as it should be in the North Basin where there had been no herbicides applied.

How do you make sense out of the something like this? It is like one group of scientists saying “the world is round,” while another, looking at the same facts, says “the world is flat.”

In some ways, the Racine-Johnson study was predictable since its primary author has written reports on the lake for over 20 years and has always been a promoter of more natural lake treatments like weed cutting and encouraging certain types of moths which naturally eat and reduce weed growth.

So, what should be done with the original report and the resultant second study? The Alliance recently announced that, thanks to the generosity local foundations, it had nearly reached its goal of lake funding for the summer of 2020.

That means that it expects to be making grant request decisions that are coming in from various lake groups — some opposed and some who support herbicide treatment. At the same time, some townships around the lake are moving ahead to request permits from the DEC to continue the herbicide process.

As I understand it, the DEC is evaluating the Racine-Johnson study as well as looking again at what the findings were of the Princeton Hydro Report of last year. To those of us looking at all of this from the sidelines, we must hope that the professionals at the DEC will “sift the wheat from the chaff” and make good decisions based upon good science.

These latest developments illustrate that decisions related to Chautauqua Lake continue to be very polarizing. There are some who are always going to be opposed to herbicide treatments. Others will look at its benefits in terms of weed control and want to continue it — and “never the twain shall meet.” It is a good thing that there is an “alliance” of organizations around the lake where such disagreements can be discussed and common solutions pursued.

In the meantime, meetings continue on the viability of creating a new lake district with powers to oversee all of this and generate revenue to pay for it. We are in an arena where politics intersects with science, and we will need to wait and see how things play out.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.