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Lake issues are no quick fix

January 2, 2014
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

The fight to improve the health of Chautauqua Lake has been ongoing for decades and will continue into 2014.

Since 1938, benchmark studies have been completed periodically to better understand the lake. According to Doug Conroe, president of the Chautauqua Lake Association and director of operations at Chautauqua Institution, recommendations from the early studies have stayed pertinent in each subsequent study.

"The lake is well-understood, as best as you can understand a living organism," he said.

One significant issue prevalent in 2013 was the overabundance of algae.

The overabundance of algae is the result of multiple factors, some of which area residents can help combat; others are not as well understood.

Stabilizing the banks of creeks and streams, by using plants to hold banks in place and absorb nutrients that would otherwise feed algae, may help reduce the amount of algae in the lake, according to Conroe.

The same methods apply to lakefront property owners. Conroe said that people who have planted strategically on their shoreline are generally happier with the water quality in front of their homes.

"With proper management, I am optimistic the worst of algae can be reduced," he said.

Conroe also mentioned that there are many types of algae, but most are not dangerous.

"Algae needs to be addressed because it can pose public health risks ... but green water is not necessarily harmful. Scum is an indicator of harmful algae, although harmful algae is very spotty," said Conroe.

Conroe added that Chautauqua Institution is currently implementing the most extensive storm water runoff plan on the lake, to further limit the nutrients reaching the lake.

Another possibility for controlling nutrients getting into the lake involves changing the wastewater treatment process slightly. Treatment facilities do not create phosphorus, but the mineral is passed through the process. According Conroe, the Chautauqua and Mayville water treatment plants have made changes to control phosphorus entering the lake.

Tom Carlson, North Chautauqua Lake Sewer District director, said that the process for lessening the amount of phosphorus reaching the lake involves adding a chemical like ferric chloride to the treatment process to remove phosphorus.

Currently, the North Chautauqua Lake Sewer District has lessened the phosphorus content of its water to around 2 mg/l, and plans to get the content to 1 mg/l, in accordance with DEC guidelines, in 2014. Within five years, the DEC will cap a maximum level of phosphate content in water leaving treatment plants at 0.2 mg/liter, a level which Carlson explained will require a mechanical process, not simply chemicals.

Carlson also said that the previously proposed unified sewer district for all towns around the lake is unlikely, due to the project's $17 million estimated cost - a preliminary estimate that does not include bringing nearby septic systems into the new lines, among other factors.

Along with letting plants grow at shorelines, local residents with septic systems can also benefit the watershed by having their systems checked every three years, to avoid system failures and impacting the watershed.

The Chautauqua Lake Association has employed third-party consultants to perform scientific studies on the lake, which have recently shown changes in plant densities that impede boating and swimming in the lake.

"Observations have shown that plant densities in the lake have reduced," Conroe said.

"The biodiversity in the lake is extraordinary," he said, noting that of the 25 plant species found in the lake, only three species are non-native concerns.

The Chautauqua Lake Association is currently looking into what has caused the increase in biodiversity in the lake and the seeming lack of invasive species - no one species is dominating the others, Conroe said.

Still, nearly 15 million pounds of vegetation was removed last year by the Chautauqua Lake Association. "But harvesting is for plants ... not an algae-control method," Conroe noted.

According to Conroe, the major issue today is algae, but the issue behind the algae is not new. Each study on the lake has recommended lessening the amount of nutrients getting into the lake for decades. The increasingly strict DEC mandates and area resident involvement are important factors in the upcoming year.

Despite lake issues, Chautauqua Lake is important for the area's economic stability. Approximately 2.3 million tourists travel to the region every year, according to information from the governor's office. The Chautauqua-Allegheny region brings in an estimated $492 million every year from tourism, which supports an estimated 10,885 jobs in the Chautauqua-Allegheny Region and generates an estimated $217 million in wages.

To contact the Chautauqua Lake Association, visit or call, 763-8602.

To learn more about watershed stewardship, visit



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