With a paddle: Lake enthusiasts take to water in support of CLA, which faces funding cuts in 2014

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Photos by Katie McLean | Staff Photographer

The declining health of Chautauqua Lake has received more attention recently, as government reports detail the deterioration of the lake quality and physical manifestations of the lake’s ill state continue to appear more frequently.

For Chautauquans, a leading cause for concern is the blue-green algae infestations at the Institution’s four beaches; public health concerns about the algae have caused Chautauqua’s recreation officials to close the beaches for periods of time in early August for the past several years.

As public awareness of lake health concerns has risen, the efforts of various governmental, quasi-governmental and private non-profit organizations to rescue the lake have also received more attention.

The state of Chautauqua Lake has even become a hot local political issue. In June 2012, for example, the Chautauqua County Legislature became embroiled in a public flap about the lack of county support for the venerable but low-key Chautauqua Lake Association, “the steward of Chautauqua Lake.”

After much posturing, last year’s funding crisis was averted, and county support for the CLA has helped to keep its colorful weed harvesters on the job this year. And thanks to a 2012 agreement between the Institution and the CLA, the weeds near Chautauqua’s shores have been mowed regularly. The agreement has been renewed for 2013.

Nevertheless, CLA’s financial position remains uncertain. To raise funds to keep its crews working on a normal schedule, the organization staged its second annual “Paddle for Chautauqua Lake” event between Long Point State Park and Bemus Point last Saturday.

The event attracted 47 kayakers from around the region, and their participation will help to keep the spotlight on the efforts to protect Chautauqua Lake.

“There hasn’t been the public furor this season about CLA funding which we saw last year, but our operations are still underfunded,” said Doug Conroe, CLA president and Institution director of operations. “We’re about $60,000 short of our 2013 budget target. If we don’t get the funds this year, we will have to curtail services next year.”

Conroe said the CLA budget depends on the state environmental protection money allocated by the New York Legislature.

“Our local legislators in Albany found money for our operations last year,” he said, “and if they come through again in 2013, we should be OK.”

Like many not-for-profit organizations, the CLA relies on funding sources such as state and local government allotments, foundation money and donor contributions.

“We are very satisfied with the solid support we continue to get from Chautauquans,” Conroe said. “People on the grounds do understand the bigger picture about the health of the lake.”

One of the leading interpreters of Chautauqua Lake’s health is Robert Johnson, former manager of the Cornell Research Ponds and a nationally respected herbivore expert. The CLA employs Johnson on retainer this year, and he is also available as a consultant to other local environmental organizations.

With all of his experience throughout the years, Johnson brings with him close ties to the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation and to several national research organizations.

Johnson has advised CLA and others on the blue-green algae issue, which Conroe describes as “a nationwide and worldwide issue.” And there are no easy fixes for the problem.

“Spraying the lake to eliminate plants, for instance, is sometimes advanced as a quick solution,” Conroe said. “But what spraying does is eliminate the algae’s competition for nutrients, without affecting the algae.

“Basically, the science tells us that phosphorus brings out the algae bloom, and nitrogen allows it to have a high enough level of toxicity to create itching on the skin or gastric distress,” Conroe continued.

This means that the algae problem will be largely affected by “federal rules mandating reductions in phosphorus and nitrogen in sewer plant effluent,” he said — whenever those rules get implemented.