Prendergast Library Holds Critical Discussion On Lake Health

Seventy-one percent of the phosphorus that reaches the lake comes from farm fields, according to John Jablonski of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy.

This was one of the many statistics discussed at the most recent critical discussion held at the Prendergast Library. The event, which was one discussion in a series of many, was well-attended by members of the public and private sector alike.

The discussion took the form of a panel of guests who addressed the crowd. The panel was moderated by Andrew Nixon.

Overall, the general tone of the discussion was a positive one, as members of the panel had many promising things to say about the approach toward improving the health of the lake.

“One of the biggest problems in the watershed right now is erosion and the loss of sedimentation,” said Jablonski. “Runoff from creeks are bringing sediment into the lake, and we’re losing depth as a result.”

Jablonski explained how the county needs to stop the ‘P’ from entering the lake.

“If we want less weeds, we need to keep the ‘P’ out of the lake,” said Jablonski. “Phosphorus. Excess phosphorus, which gives us excess algae. The algae dies, the algae sinks, then that algae decomposes and the phosphorus rises again.”

According to Jablonski, 71 percent of the phosphorus comes from farm fields.

The next panelist was Doug Conroe, Chautauqua Lake Association president. The focal point of Conroe’s discussion highlighted how maintenance of the lake will always be required, but it doesn’t need to be as intensive as it is now if the lake can become healthier.

“We need to understand that the lake will always require at least $750,000 worth of maintenance,” said Conroe. “It’s a mature lake – 16,000 years old. It’s always going to require some form of maintenance and harvesting. It will always be in the picture … some people say it’s the state’s lake, so they should take care of it. But that’s a cop-out. It’s our lake – we’re the ones that drink out of it and boat in it. Work and businesses are here because the lake is here.”

Conroe said that harvesting weeds is the option of choice right now for weed removal because it is the least injurious to the lake, and it allows for weed removal from the entire lake, where spraying the entire lake would require a budget much greater than the CLA has, and could cause severe damage to the lake’s ecosystem.

David Span of Soil and Water Conservation approached the podium next.

“We provide mostly technical services in Chautauqua County,” said Span of the SWC. “We’re very small, we only have three full-time employees.”

According to Span, SWC does most if its work outside of the lake, but still inside the watershed. Of course, wanton nutrient loading in the watershed contributes greatly to sediment reaching the lake.

“Nutrient loading is just that,” said Span. “All the excess nutrients just run right into the lake.

Sally Carlson, town supervisor for North Harmony, was the fourth panelist. She was extraordinarily pleased with how many residents from North Harmony showed up to the discussion, and ensured that North Harmony has and will take steps to reduce sediment loading of the lake. The town of North Harmony has already managed a few sediment reducing projects, such as a check-dam for sediment to collect at Cheney’s Point.

Lyle Hajdu, the final speaker, represented the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission.

“There’s an old saying that, if you want to go quickly, go alone,” said Hajdu. “If you want to go far, go together. We’re on a long journey with regard to this lake, and we all need to work together.”

Hajdu discussed the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Plan.

“The plan discusses why our lake is collecting sediment and why algael blooms are occurring,” said Hajdu. “We had to come up with an in-lake plan to controlling weeds, and that will be completed by the end of 2013. That plan isn’t just looking at the lake, but will break down the lake into zones and will determine how to more efficiently handle weeds and nutrients without harming the ecosystem. … The one thing we’ve always advocated for was to base everything on good science, be economically viable, and be community supported. I think this document will do just that.”

The Prendergast Library will hold more Critical Discussions as topics which involve the community arise.