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County group ready to move forward with lake issues

May 1, 2014
By Daniel Swanson - , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

A new alliance hopes to expand the realm of funding possibilities to benefit Chautauqua Lake.

The Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development, along with current members of the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission, are working to create the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance, a new entity focused on action.

Mark Geise, deputy director of the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development, explained the importance of the new group, which he hopes will be official in three to five months.

Article Photos

Photo by Daniel Swanson
The Veterans Memorial Bridge over Chautauqua Lake is pictured above.

"The Chautauqua Lake Management Commission was created six years ago as an advisory group to bring lake issues to the legislature," Geise said. "The group has served its purpose to define issues regarding the lake that need to be addressed - now it's time to implement, and we need a legal entity to do that.As a 501(c)3 organization, the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance will work in collaboration with area lake and watershed organizations to promote and facilitate the implementation of recommendations from the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan and the Chautauqua Lake Macrophyte Management Strategy. Specifically, the alliance is taking action to prioritize projects, secure state and federal funding and allocate resources.

Currently, the majority of the lake projects are funded by local benefactors.

The Macrophyte Management Strategy, formerly the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation plan, is focused on rooted aquatic plants and the conflict between vegetation and lake usability.

"To date, the only option we have at our disposal (to control vegetation) is harvesting," Geise said. "We want to take a look at how the lake is used and the environmental sensitivity of certain areas on the lake."

One project based on the Macrophyte Management Strategy includes zoning the lake to plot out where fish are spawning and where indigenous or exotic plants are located. Depending on the zoning study, different methods could be used to limit vegetation or protect certain areas of the lake.

According to Geise, in the 1990s there were similar efforts to control vegetation that eventually fell short of what the Department of Environmental Conservation was looking for.

The alliance has garnered support from entities including local municipalities, the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce.

According to Geise, the alliance has already received pledges of support, but is currently working out the details for deciding on board members, membership fees and how residents can be involved as "friends" of the group.

Although the Department of Planning and Economic Development is currently involved with many lake issues, the creation of the alliance will allow the department to focus on other issues involving the county.

Regarding the Chautauqua County Wastewater Consolidation Study, which the South & Center Chautauqua Lake Sewer District received $50,000 in grant money to complete, Geise said it is the first of its kind.

"No one has looked at this besides independent plants," Geise said. "This is the first study to look at the whole thing in detail."

The study is centered on understanding how to best upgrade or extend sewer systems that surround Chautauqua Lake to avoid unnecessary phosphorus and nutrient loading in the lake.

According to Geise, officials are already looking toward the next round of Consolidated Funding Applications to apply for grant money to complete upcoming projects.

To help combat phosphorus and nutrient loading in the lake, Geise also said that five out of the nine municipalities surrounding the lake have enacted erosion-control ordinances.

According to Doug Conroe, Chautauqua Lake Association president, the association is continuing to move forward despite budget difficulties.

"We're currently $144,000 short for providing a general service maintenance program for the lake's normal needs," Conroe said. "We're busy trying to raise those funds - we hope to have three crews working this summer."

The CLA is "aggressively" looking into both local fundraising efforts and state funds to help fill the budget deficit.

Conroe explained that the CLA normally hires about 30 workers, 10 workers per crew, to harvest weeds on the lake.

"There has been more debris coming into the lake from winter storms, so we are also talking about launching a special crew in May before the boating season to clean that up," Conroe said.

The CLA is continuing joint research with the county health department on harmful algal blooms, which includes bloom monitoring and reporting.

According to Conroe, lake maintenance will always be necessary and the lake's health is measured differently by different individuals - water quality and chemical properties are more important to some, while clarity and the abundance of plant growth is important to others.

"In regard to clarity, chlorophyll, nutrient abundance, algae presence and tributary sediment inflow all affect clarity," Conroe said. "Over the past several years clarity has declined."

Conroe said many factors impacting clarity are uncontrollable - summer rainfall, temperatures and sunlight all have the impact of decreasing clarity.

"In regard to chemical properties, nutrient composition has increased. Watershed and lake edge management is needed to change this. Other chemical properties have remained constant."

"The Lake Association has demonstrated that, when fully funded, it can manage plant growth so as to have a usable lake. Mother Nature is demonstrating by having longer algal bloom periods and the presence of harmful algal blooms that it will take tributary, runoff and improved land management, small sewer systems and septic systems actions along with improved zoning ordinances by local governments to change this experience," Conroe said. "We will always have algal blooms. The goal is to reduce their duration and to eliminate as many harmful algal blooms as can be eliminated."



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