The Struggle With SAVs

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a three-part series.

As anyone who has had the displeasure of pulling weeds off of their boat’s propeller can attest, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) is a pretty annoying problem that can put a damper on an otherwise exciting afternoon on Chautauqua Lake. Submerged aquatic vegetation has been a noticeable problem on Chautauqua Lake for nearly a century, but efforts are underway to do something about it. A series of articles will be published over the next several weeks discussing this topic and other topics related to the health of Chautauqua Lake.

With all of the challenges the lake faces, many great things are happening and the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management Alliance, a non-profit organization in its formative stages, will be holding the “2014 Chautauqua Lake Rally” at The Village Casino on Bemus Point on Aug. 23 from 9 a.m. until noon, to showcase the efforts.

A number of experts on Chautauqua Lake will be giving presentations regarding the ongoing efforts aimed at improving the lake’s utility while protecting it as an important environmental asset in Western New York.

Although submerged aquatic vegetation is a part of a healthy lake’s ecosystem, SAVs with root structures, otherwise known as “macrophytes,” are problematic for many reasons.

These rooted aquatic plants have a negative impact on swimming and boating, impact property values, and can be bad for fish and other aquatic organisms in the lake as they die off and decompose; thereby depleting the available oxygen in the water.

High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that encourage the growth of problematic macrophytes in Chautauqua Lake. These nutrients are carried into the lake by runoff during storms and when soil is eroded and carried down the streams.

The decline in farming and the reclamation of undeveloped land to forested land over the past 90 years has made it easier to manage Chautauqua Lake’s SAV and macrophyte problem.

Forested land only covered about 20 percent of the watershed at the beginning of the 20th century.

Today, nearly 60 percent of the Chautauqua Lake Watershed is forested – a vast environmental improvement to the area that has helped reduce the prevalence of submerged aquatic vegetation. Nutrients are also introduced into the lake from failing septic systems. Progress with building municipal sewers to serve many, but not all of the properties around the lake, have also helped to reduce the nutrients that cause excessive SAV and macrophyte growth.

The first recorded attempts to control the SAV problem in Chautauqua Lake dates back to the summer of 1934, when county officials applied algaecides in an attempt to control algal blooms.

In 1948, Burtis Bay was described as having “jungle-thick weeds that ensnarl boats … and make swimming impossible.” Today, the Chautauqua Lake Association cuts and removes the SAVs with their fleet of harvesters.

The CLA has been actively engaged in lake improvement projects since 1954 and many people view the CLA as the Department of Public Works for Chautauqua Lake.

The CLA is not alone in their efforts to improve the lake. There are other organizations such as the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and the Chautauqua Lake Partnership who work together for effective stewardship of Chautauqua Lake’s 13,000 acres and its approximately 100,000-acre watershed.

A number of variables must be considered while taking steps to treat or remove any of Chautauqua Lake’s SAVs and macrophytes.

Water depth, the presence of certain rare or endangered species, various treatment expenses, the advantages and disadvantages of different treatment approaches (i.e. manually removing vegetation versus mechanically removing vegetation versus chemical treating the vegetation) and a range of other factors must be considered in order to effectively remove macrophytes from the lake while simultaneously minimizing potential detrimental environmental impacts.

To date, no single technique or combination of techniques has been completely effective at managing SAVs in Chautauqua Lake.

Since 2011, Chautauqua County has been partnering with environmental scientists and various lake organizations to gather data and develop a unique and comprehensive strategy for managing nuisance macrophytes.

The “Chautauqua Lake Macrophyte Management Strategy” will allow individuals and groups to easily identify what management strategy is recommended to their waterfront property based on how it is used and its environmental sensitivities. For those who are curious to learn about the research methods behind the macrophyte management strategy, several chapters of the document describe the years of work and scientific rigor that were necessary to develop the Macrophyte Management Strategy.

The Chautauqua Lake Macrophyte Management Strategy will be one of the topics discussed at the event. Local government representatives and several organizations located around the lake will also be present at the event. For more information on the Chautauqua Lake Rally, please contact David McCoy at 661-8915.