From the President: Column by Thomas Becker


Column by Thomas M. Becker.

Water matters. The planet has all the water it will ever have. This life-preserving resource rolls through its natural cycles increasingly changed in course and its content by our interactions. We are utterly dependent on water for our life support, for commerce and transportation, technology and energy.

Despite this basic dependency, we have very little understanding of how to sustain and preserve these systems. Fortunately, there is an enormous game of catch-up going on among governments and business and non-governmental research organizations. Throughout the coming week at Chautauqua you will be informed and inspired by speakers that will help you understand the fundamentals of water as a resource and a complex ecosystem. You will also see into some of the innovative and tenacious efforts to build a deeper understanding of the changes and sensitivities of the global water supply. There is an old adage of management: that which is not measured will not change. Measurement activity in this area is ubiquitous.

While the lecture programs, both morning and afternoon, will pursue this theme at the global level, you will find in Bestor Plaza an aquarium displaying the water and fish of Chautauqua Lake. Additionally, this weekend you will see tables and tents on the plaza for the many organizations concerned with Chautauqua Lake and regional issues of water management and watershed conservancy. In total, these groups have never before gathered in one place to display and demonstrate their work. We hope they are helpful to your more nuanced understanding of this beautiful and essential resource. We are also hopeful that their unprecedented proximity to one another will stimulate collaborative progress toward practices and stimulants to preserve our precious lake and its environs.

Chautauqua Lake is 17 miles long. There are about 41 miles of lakefront. Nine political jurisdictions ring the lake. The southern basin of the lake is much older and shallower than the northern area where the Institution is located. By its nature, the lake is designed to encourage the growth of weeds and foliage. That natural process is enhanced and changed by the nutrients and other elements in the runoff to the lake from the surrounding area. Thus, at one level, we are accelerating a natural process and at the same time introducing particulates that add dangerously to the mix.

The state of New York is close to enacting new regulations that will dramatically limit the level and type of particulates allowed to run off to the lake from the surrounding communities and the water treatment facilitates on the lake. Much of the discussion this week will center on these changes and the important activities that we are preparing to respond to these issues.

Several of our neighboring communities are coming to these issues with far less history and experience in responding to these problems. Some have fewer resources to muster to the effort. We are hopeful this week and our efforts this year will raise the consciousness of the local communities about the issue, share what data we have that gives a facts-based description of the issues and demonstrate by example the way in which we can effectively come to the aid of our most important physical and aesthetic resource.

We also have the great privilege of welcoming perhaps the finest preacher in the English language to the grounds this Sunday, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. You can count on her to relate the week’s theme of water to her guidance toward reverence and worship and our compassionate obligation to one another and God’s creation.

Welcome to Week Four.