Conroe, Shedd address lake’s health at porch discussion

Kreable Young | Staff Photographer
Doug Conore, director of operations, speaks about Chautauqua environmental issues during the Trustee Porch Discussion Wednesday.

“Think of a collage,” Doug Conroe directed the crowd at Wednesday’s board of trustees porch discussion. “It’s made up of a lot of different pictures. These pictures are all the different aspects that go into the Chautauqua watershed.”

Conroe, director of operations, accompanied by John Shedd, director of facilities and administrator of architectural and land use regulations, took over the Hultquist Center porch Wednesday morning to lead almost 30 community members in a discussion of “Lake and Storm Water Management.” Aided by pictures and graphs, Conroe and Shedd talked about the deteriorating health of the lake and how the community can preserve it.

“It takes not just one person, but all of us,” Conroe said. “Each little piece, each picture contributes to the collage.”

Chautauqua Lake was formed 12,000 to 16,000 years ago as glaciers passed over the land, Conroe said. Since then, the lake followed an expected trajectory of aging, until human development interfered and quickened the process.

“Chautauqua Lake has greatly accelerated its maturity development, and with that comes some concerns,” Conroe said.

Among these concerns are unhealthy plant growth, excessive phosphorous and nitrogen levels, algal blooms and toxic water quality. Conroe said that the Institution has undergone considerable efforts in recent years to combat these problems, cultivating 13 different drainage methods in the Institution. These include porous driveways and walkways, the Fletcher Music Hall nature park and rain garden, the storm water management park Root Avenue and the constructed wetland on the golf course, which currently absorbs runoff water from 33 acres of land.

Aside from drainage systems, Conroe and Shedd are driving other initiatives to manage storm water. One such initiative is the push to change Chautauqua’s shorelines. The lake is framed by too many perfectly manicured lawns and pin-straight break walls, Conroe said. These accelerate runoff and contribute to erratic wave patterns which erode the shore.

“Nature’s not linear,” Conroe said of the shoreline. “You don’t see anything straight in nature for very long.”

Shedd said that they are also mandating homeowners to plant trees and native species along their lakefront property. One small tree, he said, absorbs 100 gallons of groundwater a day.

“This is not meant to be a burden,” he said. “It’s to help protect you, your neighbor and the lake.”

Conroe added that the lake is on a dangerous precipice, noting that New York state has identified it as an impaired water body. It requires immediate action to help keep it healthy.

“The lake’s health is at a tipping point,” he said. “It’s tipped from medium to bad.”

Despite this news, some residents at Wednesday’s meeting were concerned that planting trees in their lawns would ruin the aesthetic of the lake view and potentially decrease property values. Conroe said that he understands the difficulty of changing Chautauquans’ mindsets, and that it is a battle everyday to convince people that the lake’s health is more important that an unobscured view of the water.

“We’re not going to make a forest on the lakefront,” he said. “But we need to plant trees for soil preservation, nutrient absorption, bird habitat and shade.”

Jack McCredie, a property owner and Institution trustee, reinforced Conroe’s sentiment.

“It’s not just a matter of aesthetics,” he said. “If Chautauqua Lake goes, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what happens to the rest of Chautauqua.”

Another community member, Clayton Winter, wanted to know what the other communities around the lake were doing to absorb storm water.

“Chautauqua represents an advancement over the rest of the lake in terms of water management,” Winter said. “How much do you do outreach around the lake with other communities?”

Conroe said that, while the Institution is a leader in maintaining the lake’s health, other municipalities in the area are putting forth an effort to be environmentally friendly as well. He mentioned Point Chautauqua, which is changing some shoreline lawn space, and Cattaraugus County officials, who took a tour of Chautauqua Institution’s rain gardens to get ideas for its own initiatives.

“Even though no one else is doing the magnitude that we’re doing, every community is doing things with stormwater management,” Shedd said.

There were a few Chautauquans who wanted to know more specifically this “magnitude” of Chautauqua’s efforts. With all the money and energy spent on creating stormwater management systems, they were curious if the results were being measured in order to determine the systems’ effectiveness.

“With all the installations, do you have to do any pre- or post-monitoring to regulate how many nutrients you’re removing?” said Darrell Rapp.

Conroe said that he has been monitoring the installations for three years and is sending the results to two different labs. He said the assessment is an inexact science, but that measurements are still necessary to gauge the Chautauqua Utility District’s process. The CUD has been mandated by the state to reduce phosphorous output by 83 percent, he said. But their initiatives thus far have been pretty successful; the wetlands on Massey, for instance, removed 50 percent of solids from its stormwater.

“I would love to be doing more monitoring, but it’s a bit delicate, a bit extensive and a bit expensive,” Conroe said.

Next week, the Chautauqua board of trustees will convene a gathering at the Hultquist Center porch once again to address the theme of “Attracting and Retaining Chautauquans.”