After 39 years of teaching kindergarten and college students, Dave Anderson was ready to grab his tackle box, hang a “Gone Fishin’” sign on his door and spend some quality time on the creek.
An avid angler for brown trout, Anderson knew the best way to find his favorite fish was by walking a few miles upstream from Chautauqua Lake to the tributaries that feed into it. Anderson found one stretch of Goose Creek, a deep, bendy bit of stream that meandered next to the Fairbanks Farms Airport in Ashville, which yielded high numbers of both brown trout and brown water.
Little did he know that his discovery meant the end of his full-time retirement.
“I went to John Jablonski, who’s the director of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy,” Anderson said. “And I said, ‘John you’ve got to see this stretch of creek,’ because at that time they had been talking about all of the sediment that goes into the lake. And I told him that stretch of Goose Creek had to be depositing more sediment in the lake than any other.”
And he was right.
According to Chautauqua Watershed Coordinator Dave McCoy, Goose Creek deposits more than 6,600 tons of sediment and nutrients into Chautauqua Lake every year. That’s approximately 300 dump trucks’ loads. In 2011, the Chautauqua County Department of Economic Planning and Development finalized their comprehensive watershed management plan, and one of the outcomes of the massive report was an assessment of tributaries, including Goose Creek.
The report identified Anderson’s fishing hole as a site of critical importance that required management.
“All of the pieces fell into place,” McCoy said. “We did the study and designated the Goose Creek area as a critical point.”
Jablonski realized that many of the sites requiring remediation, like the stretch of Goose Creek, ran through privately owned land. This meant the landowners would have to be brought on board with the project before any action could take place.
“Jablonski got a grant from the Sheldon Foundation to hire a staff conservationist part time to talk to the landowners along the streams in Chautauqua County, most of which empty into the lake,” Anderson said. “I was hired two years ago to go out and talk to landowners and say, ‘Do you realize that there are all these state, county and federal programs for these waterways?’ ”
Anderson’s target for the potential Goose Creek project was Jeff Carlson, the landowner of the Fairbanks Farms Airport and the dairy cow pastures leased out around it. He also approached Rob Halbohm, a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to help work with Carlson and develop an application for federal funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program. According to the USDA website, EQIP provides support to agricultural producers in order to help them address environmental and natural resource concerns on their land.
Carlson’s approved EQIP grant awarded the project with an initial $298,000. Using the 2 percent occupancy tax available for use on projects affecting the Chautauqua watershed, the County Planning Department brought in another $50,000. The Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation pledged $80,000 to the cause, and the CWC added in $10,000 on top of that; adding up to a grand total of $438,000.
That’s almost a half-million dollars dedicated to sediment control for a creek, and Halbohm thinks every penny is needed.
“Basically, there’s this 3,500-foot section of the stream that basically runs through a pasture right now,” Halbohm said. “The channel’s what’s known as an incised channel, which means it’s very deep and doesn’t have any floodplain, so what we’ll end up doing is take some of the meanders out and add in rock structures and grade fills in to slow the stream down and stop the erosion along the bank.”
The project will also reestablish the floodplain along the side of the channel, which will allow the creek to flow out into the pasture in times of heavy rain instead of just dumping straight into the lake.
It may seem unbelievable that less than a mile of creek can have such a large impact on Chautauqua Lake and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and project work to manage. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s National Water Quality Inventory reports lists sedimentation as one the most common pollutant in rivers, streams and lakes, causing $16 billion in environmental damage every year.
Now that the necessary funding has been acquired, Halbohm says the next step involves getting approval for permits required by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers. An NRCS engineer will also be brought in to finalize the construction plan for the project.
Construction on the Goose Creek project is slated to begin during the low-water season in the fall of 2015.
“It’s a win-win,” Anderson said. “The landowner’s no longer losing their soil and really improving the value of their land, and it’s good for the lake, too.