Guest speakers talk lake projects at CLA meeting

CHAUTAUQUA — From algal bloom research and conservation practices to a new boat stewardship program, lake projects were highlighted at the annual meeting of the Chautauqua Lake Association.

Held at Chautauqua Institution’s Athenaeum Hotel, three guest speakers took to the microphone to discuss their work to preserve the health of the lake. A large crowd listened intently.

Sue O’Reilly, science and data manager for the Adirondack Watershed Institute, discussed cooperative data collection efforts between the CLA and the Adirondack Watershed Institute Stewardship Program. Housed at Paul Smith’s College, the AWI Stewardship Program is offering the CLA data support services in order to expand collaboration on invasive species across the state.

For the first time last year, the CLA conducted a boat stewardship program on Chautauqua Lake. Boat stewards were stationed at a number of launch sites to explain invasive species prevention.

O’Reilly told guests that 3,217 boats were inspected during the 2016 summer recreational season on the lake. Of those inspections, 49 aquatic invasive species were intercepted before boats hit the water on Chautauqua Lake.

Motorboats are more likely to carry invasive species since they have more sharp edges than a kayak, she said.

“(Boaters) came from all over the place,” O’Reilly said. “There’s a lot (that came from) Ohio, but then there’s random ones in Virginia and Indiana. It’s really often surprising to people who don’t realize exactly how far and how often boats are coming to their lake.”

O’Reilly said the approval rating for the stewardship program on Chautauqua Lake last year was 96 percent. O’Reilly said Chautauqua Lake has more public access point than lakes within the Adirondack Watershed. She said the AWI Stewardship Program will continue to work with the CLA, and others throughout the state, to compile more data to prevent invasive species from entering the lake.

Jennifer Phillips Russo, adjunct environmental science professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, discussed her research on Chautauqua Lake that primarily focused on nutrients that drive algal communities. Her research is looking to help target nutrients, and combinations of nutrients, in order to enact prevention measures.

After taking and examining water samples on Chautauqua Lake, her research found that phosphorus and nitrogen are driving cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, growth.

“Historical focus has always been on phosphorus reduction and it has always been successful in Chautauqua Lake. However, that’s only part of the story,” she said. “If you look at algal species and what’s driving especially the cyanobacteria, nitrogen is a huge nutrient for them.”

Phillips Russo said it would be effective for management plans to consider the role and reduction of nitrogen. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that enter the lake come from runoff and agricultural lands where fertilizer is used, she said.

Attendees were also informed about a new scientific buoy called the Chautauqua Aquatic Monitoring Project, or CHAMP. The buoy, placed off Lutheran Camp, takes readings every 15 minutes to measure pH, oxygen, conductivity, algae, temperature and wind speed, among other things.

Concluding the list of speakers was Jonathan Townsend, conservation lands manager for the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy. Townsend discussed in detail the Chautauqua Lake Watershed’s layout and the role it plays in the lake’s overall water quality. Specifically, Townsend said there’s about 100,000 acres of land in the watershed and about 13,000 acres in Chautauqua Lake. He said there’s roughly 300 miles of streams and 14 subwatersheds.

Supporting land conservation was one recommendation Townsend provided to attendees.

“It’s a highly cost-effective approach. When you reduce the amount of forest, you dramatically increase how expensive it is to treat water,” he said. “You dramatically increase the rates of erosion, which increases the aquatic vegetation in Chautauqua Lake.”

Townsend said people can also reduce use of plastics, which photodegrade and do not biodegrade. That means the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces and does not break down to their constituent chemical base. He said small plastics move into waterways where fish consume them, which can cause harm and death to wildlife.

In addition, small plastics absorb toxins.

“Not only are animals eating them, but they’re eating something that’s coated in an environmental toxin,” he said. “Little organisms are eating these polluted plastics and bigger fish eat it thinking it’s a little piece of plankton.”

Townsend said people should also limit the use of chemicals on the lawn. He said the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy can provide consulting services to give people the best management practices for lawn, such as installing rain gardens or buffer strips. He also told attendees to plant native plants, as they have an ecological function and have been coevolving with insects and other things for millions of years.