The Chautauqua Lake Partnership (CLP) is a non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of Chautauqua Lake. The organization is managed by an all-volunteer Board of Directors who are concerned about Chautauqua Lake water quality, especially the proliferation of weeds and algae near shore and along the shoreline. For years there have been “sludge”, masses of rotting weeds and algae, including blue-green algae and cyanobacteria toxin near shore and on the shoreline. CLP believes that the health of the lake will require regular herbicide treatments to eliminate weeds and reducing phosphorous and nitrogen, the elements that support the growth Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).
For the last several years, CLP has worked with the townships around Chautauqua Lake to help them apply to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) for herbicides to be applied in the lake to address the two invasive weeds that are destroying the health of the lake: curly leaf pondweed and Eurasian milfoil. Unfortunately, the NYS DEC has not approved all of the areas requested for herbicide application. In 2019, the NYS DEC approved herbicide application in a large area in the South Basin of the lake. The results were incredible. The lake was a place to enjoy for the whole summer. In 2020, however, the NYS DEC approved a smaller than requested area, and the herbicides in those areas could not be applied in time to address the early growth of curly leaf pondweed. The early part of the summer on the lake was very negatively affected as a result. The rest of the summer may or may not be acceptable, depending on the growth of the Eurasian milfoil. The hope is that the herbicide application from 2019 will continue to inhibit the growth of the Eurasian milfoil in 2020. In 2022, the NYS DEC approved more acreage, and the results were, again, very positive. Unfortunately, the south basin continues to have extreme weed proliferation, specifically the curly leaf pondweed, where there were not herbicides applied. CLP continues to work closely with the NYS DEC in an effort to make the whole lake usable and healthy. The south basin saw relief from Eurasian milfoil in 2023. The lake was predominantly clear of that weed and of extreme algae growth – indicating a relationship between the two.
A new invasive weed has recently been found in Chautauqua Lake – Starry Stonewort. It can outcompete other aquatic plants, harming habitat for fish and other wildlife by reducing cover and food sources. It also impacts ecosystems by absorbing phosphorous and changing the chemistry of sediment. When it becomes established it can smother fish spawning grounds and reduce habitat diversity. It has significantly multiplied since being originally spotted in the lake. The CLP has requested funding to apply herbicides for this invasive weed as well.
Cutting the weeds in the lake has been the only other means of addressing the weeds. Unfortunately, cutting has a very negative result – the weed cuttings that are not picked up, create surface weed mats that ultimately fall to the bottom of the lake and decay, producing the nitrogen, which supports the growth of HABs. That is another reason that herbicides will enhance the lake as there would be fewer weeds and thus less cutting required.
The other cause of HABs is linked to ‘overfeeding.’ This occurs when nutrients (mainly phosphorus, nitrogen, and carbon) from sources such as lawns and farmlands flow downstream to the lake and build up at a rate that ‘overfeeds’ the algae that exist normally in the environment. CLP is working with North Carolina State University to survey and sensor the lake. CLP and BGSU have been sampling the streams coming into Chautauqua Lake on a monthly basis. In 2021, two sensors were placed in the lake at Camp Merz and Hadley Bay to test viability of the sensors supporting full study starting in 2020 The sensor at Camp Merz was retrieved and the preliminary results indicated a lake phosphorus loading approximately 10 times higher than what was found at the creek mouths sampled in the North Basin. In 2020, sampling started with seven streams and earlier this year, expanded to include all 16 major tributaries being sampled on a monthly basis. The Jefferson Project has taken over the issues on Chautauqua Lake regarding HABs. The plan is to determine what can be done to reduce the phosphorous loading coming into the lake.
The CLP simply wants Chautauqua Lake to be a healthy lake that can be enjoyed by all for fishing, swimming, and boating. The organization is doing all that it can to use science to eliminate the proliferation of invasive weeds and HABs to make the lake one that is in the best condition possible.