Porch Discussion focuses on stormwater management

This week's porch discussion focused on the Institution's plan for managing storm water runoff using gardens and landscaping. (Joshua Boucher | Staff Photographer)

This week’s porch discussion focused on the Institution’s plan for managing storm water runoff using gardens and landscaping. (Joshua Boucher | Staff Photographer)

Chautauqua Institution is building strong roots. Literally.

At Wednesday’s Board of Trustees Porch Discussion, John Shedd, director of operations and administrator of architectural and land use regulations, and Betsy Burgeson, supervisor of gardens and landscapes, discussed the importance of stormwater management, rain gardens and environmental sustainability for Chautauqua Lake.

Environmental excellence is one of the key aspects of the board of trustees’ strategic plan for Chautauqua. Shedd said the Institution has developed stormwater management strategies on its property using the 14 drainage areas along the shoreline as part of its action plan.

Adding large boulders at strategic locations along the shoreline is one way Shedd said the Institution is working toward decreasing erosion and creating more biodiversity along the lake.

“We will be continuing to do more shoreline work in our long-term plan,” Shedd said.

The safety and health of those in contact with the lake is also something Shedd emphasized. Problems such as blue-green algae arise, sometimes forcing the Institution’s beaches to close.

Shedd said some of the causes of blue-green algae in the area are agriculture, real estate development, roadways, and any type of surface that is impermeable. The soil in New York is naturally rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which are food sources for the algae and weeds, Shedd said.

Blue-green algae is an irritant to human skin, but it can be extremely harmful and deadly to small animals and fish.

While  Chautauqua Institution’s efforts can only affect a small portion of Chautauqua Lake’s overall shoreline, Shedd said, the administration is trying to educate other communities around the lake in order to strive for environmental sustainability.

“We are trying to be a model community for what can be done to try to improve the lake conditions,” Shedd  said.

Rain gardens, stormwater drains, and no-mow zones are a few of the initiatives that are forming to create better drainage and to slow the rainwater as it flows into the lake.

Burgeson said that, when she builds a rain garden, she considers what she calls “The 3 S’s”: “Slow it down, spread it out, and soak it up.”

Rain gardens can intercept about 90 percent of rainwater, she said.

She said the rain garden near Fletcher Music Hall has been successful in absorbing rainwater from the nearby parking lot and has created a green space with more biodiversity that Chautauquans can enjoy.

More rain gardens will be planted around the grounds in the future, starting with the area near University Beach. Planting around University Beach should begin in the next week, Burgeson said.

The Institution also is developing a community forest management plan to maintain Chautauqua’s signature tree canopy. Trees are crucial in helping to slow rainwater as it flows to the lake, as much of the water is soaked up by the roots.

“We are thinking about and choosing plants based on their root structures,” Burgeson said.

Planting native plants and trees can aid in this effort, she said.

Shedd and Burgeson noted a few ways that homeowners can assist in reducing stormwater runoff into the lake as well. By collecting their own stormwater, planting native trees in their yards, making sure they have enough pervious surfaces for rainwater to soak into, and keeping their grass a little longer, homeowners can help in the stormwater management plan and reduce rainwater run-off.

Shedd said he hopes to continue to educate the community of Chautauqua and surrounding areas to make sure that the environment at Chautauqua Institution is sustainable and continues to improve.

Chautauqua Board of Trustees Porch Discussions occur at 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday on the Hultquist Center porch. Discussions have a different theme and speaker each week.