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Observing Herbicide Results

There is probably no issue more divisive on Chautauqua Lake than the use of herbicides in controlling weed growth. There seems to be no middle ground. Either you believe that they should be a part of managing the lake, or you think that they are a dangerous assault on the environment.

I count myself in the first group, but with qualifications. When used, herbicides should be guided by the best science available and they should be monitored by an independent, governmental agency–in our case the Department of Environmental Conservation of New York State ( DEC.)

If there is a middle ground on this issue, I would say that it is in the common interest of everyone that the ecology of the lake not be adversely affected and the natural plant life of the lake be restored. That is, the use of herbicides should be focused on non-native/invasive species of weeds which have overtaken and displaced the normal plant growth in the lake.

There is a place on the lake where the effect of herbicide application can easily be seen. If you drive along the shoreline on the east side of the lake in Bemus Point from the general area of the Casino south to the bridge where herbicide was applied, you will see very little curly-leaf pondweed. Yet, on the other side of the lake, the Stow side of the narrows, there is a lot of weed growth. Because of the work of weed-cutters, it has been cleared a bit. Yet, because there was no herbicide treatment, the shoreline there is pretty much loaded with the pondweed.

Usually, around the Fourth of July, after a good portion of our short summer season has passed, curly-leaf pondweed goes away as its bloom ends and the weeds sink. But then, of course, the residue can still wash up on the beach and the smell is not pleasant.

Aside from curly-leaf pondweed, the other major invasive weed culprit on the lake is Eurasian watermilfoil. The treatment for this “critter” is a different herbicide, and this year the DEC permitted its use up the lake to the Sunset Bay area and beyond. This herbicide was to be applied this past week. The herbicide used for milfoil is very focused on what it attacks and so few lake use restrictions were to be imposed where it was applied. Its effectiveness should be noticed by immediate lakeshore owners, but may not be as visible on the surface as what we have seen with the curly-leaf pondweed treatment.

If you have seen no herbicide treatment near your shore, it is probably because the DEC didn’t allow it or the town you live in didn’t request a permit. The Town of North Harmony, on the west side of the lake where I live, did not ask for a permit–so no herbicide treatment was applied in its waters. That explains the weeds in the Stow area along the west side of the lake.

Chautauqua Institution gets its drinking water from the lake, so it has been understandably concerned about herbicide treatment. Here again, the DEC is responsible for ensuring that such drinking water is not contaminated by chemicals being applied in the lake. What the DEC cannot control, of course, is what happens if we experience a toxic algae bloom on the lake. That is a whole different story.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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