Group fights algal blooms, bacteria in Chautauqua Lake

The Chautauqua Lake Association is a nonprofit that works 13 weeks a year to maintain the health and productivity of the lake. Monday night, members convened for the organization’s annual meeting.

Founded in 1953, the CLA includes members of the Chautauqua County legislative office, soil and water conservation district, Chautauqua watershed conservancy, health department and regional fisheries, among others. Around 200 people gathered at the Lakewood Rod and Gun Club as former CLA president P. Christian Yates offered the invocation. 

CLA President Doug Conroe, also director of operations at Chautauqua Imstitution, and Association Treasurer Deborah Moore followed the invocation with a summary of the CLA’s actions and expenditures from the 2013 season.

“Last year, our crews removed over 15 million pounds of vegetation from Chautauqua Lake,” Conroe said. “This year, we already have over a million pounds of nuisance material removed in these first three weeks, with 35 truckloads coming from Burtis Bay alone.”

The amount of impact the CLA has on the local watershed is critical to the continuing productivity of the lake, and because the association is a nonprofit organization, it requires huge amounts of funding to sustain its operations. According to the association’s 2013 report, total assets for the fiscal year 2013 were valued at $1,167,583.

This year, they’re aiming for more.

“For 2014, our mission is very simple: work as hard as our resources allow us,” Conroe said. “We will spend every penny we get. Hopefully, this year’s funds will let us work the full 13 weeks.”

The association has received a $100,000 grant from the state of New York, as well as $60,000 from Chautauqua County. 

Contributions from individual donors and local foundations made up a large part of the CLA’s funding base as well. Following the 2013 financial report and coverage of 2014’s work plan, Gregory Boyer took the stage to deliver a presentation on algal blooms and their effects on Chautauqua Lake.

Boyer currently directs the Great Lakes Research Consortium in addition to chairing the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Department of Chemistry.

Boyer’s background surrounding the algae plaguing Chautauqua Lake is extensive, and his work surrounding toxic blooms dates all the way back to the 1970s. His presentation, “15 questions in 30 minutes about everything you ever wanted to know about blue-green algae but were too afraid to ask,” focused specifically around the toxin-secreting cyanobacteria that will be cropping up in the lake in the coming weeks.

Boyer’s questions included those such as what is blue-green algae, why is it dangerous, where is it found and what can be done about it?

That last question is the most important.

Referencing Onondaga Lake northwest of Syracuse, Boyer recounted how proper sewage treatment remediated the lake that was on the brink of algal apocalypse.

“Onondaga invested $340 million in sewer treatment, and ammonia capture — things like that,” Boyer said. “As far as Chautauqua goes, you want to get the community onto a sewage system plan. That’s a huge first step.”

The term “eutrophication” refers to an ecosystem’s reaction to the addition of artificial substances like nitrogen and phosphorous into a water body. 

A mesotrophic lake is one with normal levels of nutrients and generally clear, healthy water. 

According to Conroe, the North Basin of Chautauqua Lake has degraded from a mesotrophic designation to eutrophic in the past 35 years due to human activity. South Basin is designated as hypertrophic, the highest level of concern, and is critically affected.

Boyer said that Chautauqua Lake is not alone in this fight, as nearly half of all lakes in New York have been found to harbor populations of blue-green algae, and around 10 percent of those lakes tested were at levels of concern.

Not all doom-and-gloom, Boyer listed some methods of remediation the Chautauqua community can employ to stop the growth of cyanobacteria, and reduce its hold on the lake. He said by controlling stormwater and agricultural runoff, updating the sewer systems around the lake and lessening fertilizer usage, the residents of Chautauqua watershed can make an effort toward restoring the health of the reservoir.