Chautauqua Lake Management Actions Explained

By Douglas E. Conroe

This letter to the editor was written in response to an editorial published in The Post-Journal on October 10, 2020, titled “Strong Leadership Needed On Lake; Is That A Pipe Dream?” It was submitted to The Post-Journal two weeks ago but, as of this date, has not been printed.

Editor, The Post-Journal:

This is to comment upon and also to correct inaccuracies contained in the daily Editorial of the October 10-11, 2020, edition of The Post-Journal.  The editorial reflected upon Chautauqua Lake management.

The editor leaves the reader with the impression that the Chautauqua Lake Association sponsored Racine-Johnson study was performed to evaluate the 2019 herbicide program that occurred in the lake. That was not the purpose of the study.  The study was a continuation of aquatic plant monitoring that has occurred annually by the principal owner of Racine-Johnson since beginning in 2002.  The work started initially under the auspices of Cornell University and then upon his retirement from Cornell transitioned to the ecologist’s subsequent involvement as the principal in Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists.  Comments rendered about perceived impacts of the herbicide program were simply observations resulting from the ecologist’s seventeen years of involvement with lake conditions here and at other lakes, comments the nature of which he normally renders from time-to-time.  Although the Department of Environmental Conservation has involved his expertise in evaluating herbicide treatments elsewhere, that was not his role here.  His role here has been to record and explain the lake’s aquatic plant community’s presence as an aspect of normal scientific benchmarking and to perform additional lake studies as requested at times.  His staff is currently also monitoring the herbivore community and its impact on plant growth, mussel presence in the lake and the staff is being vigilant for new invasive species that might arrive.

The editor further leaves the reader with the impression that the third party herbicide evaluation was performed under the sponsorship of Chautauqua County.  In reality, the evaluation was performed under the sponsorship of the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance.  The Alliance determined the scope of the work, retained the contractor, met privately with the contractor to discuss its report prior to the report’s publication (an aspect that the CLA does not do with Racine-Johnson in order to assure the contractor’s independence) and paid for the report.

The two reports should not be compared in a one-versus-the-other scenario.  They evaluated different time frames and for the most part different lake locations.  The reports did exhibit similarities in that both noted apparent herbicide drift to non-target areas and that damage occurred to native plant species as well as non-native species.  Nevertheless, the studies were not performed on a common platform from which a valid comparison can be drawn.  The two reports served different purposes.

Regrettably, the Alliance sponsored third party study was hurriedly scoped at the last minute and reduced in scope due to budget limitations.  The study varied from standard evaluation timeframes and parameters.  Nevertheless, it gave a glimpse into what happened.

The editor also attributes the current problem to the state of affairs post-County Executive Borrello.  A wider view of the situation needs to occur.  Actually, the current predicament started back in 2017 when the then county administration refused to update its 1990 supplemental environmental impact statement.  It justified such by saying that it would be inappropriate to develop the statement because the county would not be the herbicide permit holder.  Officials did not disclose that when the 1990 statement was prepared and issued that the county was not the permit holder then either.  Nevertheless, in 1990 the county became the mediator between all sides, involved all sides along with the general community in the statement’s preparation and produced a document that was workable to all sides.

Unfortunately, by not updating its environmental impact statement county officials knowingly opened the door widely for the one-sided document that was developed that continues to be controversial through today.  The Town of Ellery allowed the Chautauqua Lake Partnership to dictate the content of the document utilizing the guidance of the partnership’s attorneys and herbicide vendor.  The other parties that the county brought to the table in 1990 were excluded from the document’s preparation and were brushed aside when they offered over 300 comments at the end of the various processes where public input was required by state law.  Had county officials, most of which are still in office, stepped up to the plate in 2017, the situation today might be totally different.

To many the 2019 county-authored Memorandum of Agreement presented a current day path to compromise.  Those that work with it know differently.  It was a political splash one-sided edict tying funding to signing.  The better hope for success was a two months earlier issued Conservation Statement that was jointly prepared and signed by ten organizations.  County officials declined to work with those groups and pushed ahead on their own path.  We now have the state of affairs that has resulted.  County officials need to learn from this and the 1990 process if real improvement is to occur.

Douglas E. Conroe
Executive Director
Chautauqua Lake Association, Inc.
429 East Terrace Avenue, Lakewood, NY 14750
Phone (716) 763-8602

Threatened Plant Species Prevalent in Chautauqua Lake

Tray of various aquatic plants.
Aquatic plants collected in Chautauqua Lake. Photo by Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists.

Report find 22 aquatic plant species, one threatened and concentrated in South Basin

LAKEWOOD, NY June 19, 2019 – A late-spring third-party survey found 22 species of aquatic plants in Chautauqua Lake, one of which is a threatened species under state regulations that is concentrated in the lake’s South Basin.

Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists of Ithaca, NY, prepared the report, Late Spring 2019 Presence and Abundance of Aquatic Plants in Chautauqua Lakefor the Chautauqua Lake Association. It found that Potamogeton hilli, commonly called Hill’s pondweed, exists throughout the lake.

New York State classifies Hill’s pondweed as a threatened species and found it prevalent in both lake basins, though scientists catalogued the greatest concentration lake-wide in the southern end of the South Basin. The CLA presented the 114-page report’s findings to the state Department of Environmental Conservation this week.

“The importance of having a robust healthy macrophyte [aquatic plant] community in the littoral zone [the area where plants grow] of Chautauqua Lake is essential to the overall health of the lake,” the report stated. “A decrease in macrophyte species diversity, richness and abundance has the potential to lead to a decline of the world-class, warm-water fishery dependent upon thehabitat that aquatic plants provide.”

The report profiled plant species in the lake since record keeping started in 1937, observing that the mean frequency during that time is 24 species.

Racine-Johnson, and its predecessor Cornell Ponds, performed annual lake-plant monitoring under contract to the Chautauqua Lake Association since 2002. Racine-Johnson executes scientific plant studies on lakes throughout New York and beyond. The firm is also well known for its work in understanding the role that herbivores serve in controlling the invasive Eurasian watermilfoil, one of two invasive species the report found in the lake.

Sampling Team collects and sorts aquatic plants.

“Eurasian watermilfoil is well established and widespread in the lake; however, a suite of invertebrate herbivores attacks the plant at various times of the year, significantly limiting growth of this non-native,” according to the report.

“The extremely large populations of insect herbivores in Chautauqua Lake, documented yearly since 2002 by Cornell University and Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists, provide the lowest- cost, most-effective control possible of excessive growth of Eurasian watermilfoil,” the report continued.

“Therefore, conservation of these essential biological control agents is paramount in maintaininga healthy Chautauqua Lake.”

Excessive macrophyte growth remains as an ongoing concern . . .as it has for at least the last 100 years.

Late Spring 2019 Presence and Abundance of Aquatic Plants in Chautauqua La

“Excessive macrophyte growth remains as an ongoing concern for stakeholders of Chautauqua Lake, as it has for at least the last 100 years,” the report noted. “The lake is eutrophic [very nutrient rich] and shallow eutrophic lakes generally fall into a macrophyte [aquatic plant] or algae-dominated waterbody. Today, an algae-dominated lake would likely have large numbers of harmful algae or cyanobacteria.”

“The lake requires a macrophyte-dominated littoral zone that competes against an overabundance of cyanobacteria [HAB] to remain a healthy ecosystem with good water clarity and an excellent warm-water fishery.”

The report explained how the aquatic plants take up nutrients and block wave action that would cause nutrients to be more prevalent throughout the water column, which in turn results in growth of troublesome blue-green or cyanobacteria HAB blooms.

In describing the publicly perceived excessive plant growth, the report noted that the “area withmedium and dense growth of macrophytes is actually very small in relation to the total surface area of Chautauqua Lake.” It further noted that “a large percentage of the littoral area has only atrace occurrence of plant growth.”

The report also addressed the role that the invasive Curly-leaf pondweed serves in Chautauqua Lake.

“The plant provides important early season habitat for fish and invertebrates, while slowing or preventing excessive early growth of Eurasian watermilfoilelodea and coontail. Curly-leaf’searly growth outcompetes or displaces other species in the competition for space, food, or other resources, reducing early growth of Eurasian watermilfoil and native species, thereby saving management monies.”

The plant begins to die in late spring and disappears in early summer.

“Chautauqua Lake’s macrophyte community is species diverse and overwhelmingly dominated by desirable plant species,” the report concludes.

The complete report can be viewed on the lake association’s reports tab of its

New York State awards CLA $100,000 to thwart new invasive plant species

The report’s release comes shortly after the announcement that New York State awarded the CLA $100,000 to thwart new invasive plant species through the Watercraft Steward Program of boat-launch inspections.

The program allows the CLA to provide watercraft stewards on boat launches on Chautauqua Lake, Cassadaga Lake and Lake Erie. In 2018, the CLA’s watercraft stewards interacted with 10,326 boaters, inspecting 5,685 boats of all sizes, shapes and propulsion methods.

The DEC prohibits boats and equipment from entering or leaving DEC launch sites without first being drained and cleaned.

“This is a smart, effective program that focuses on prevention and proactivity,” said Douglas Conroe, executive director of the Chautauqua Lake Association. “We’re grateful for the funding because this program has already proven its preventative value.”

The grant is for three years. In 2019 and 2020, the CLA will combine it with $39,900 from a Chautauqua County Occupancy Tax-funded grant in 2019 and a $15,000 Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance grant. Total program for the CLA is $194,800

This most recent funding, however, is unrelated to revenue shortfalls from New York and local municipalities that means the CLA can only hire 27 workers instead of 42, as in 2018, to harvest and clean the lake this summer.

The CLA’s lake services operating budget for 2019 is $640,000, down from $730,000 last summer. New York contributed $150,000 last year, but nothing toward the 2019 operating budget. The villages of Bemus Point and Celoron, and the towns of Chautauqua and Ellery, also contributed nothing this summer.

More about the Chautauqua Lake Association

The Chautauqua Lake Association traces its beginnings to 1946 and its actual formation in 1953. The current focus is to perform environmentally sound plant-control practices, undertake scientific monitoring and relevant research, service the shoreline in promotion of maintaining healthy conditions, and promote educational efforts to enhance public understanding of lake association methods and lake needs. MORE