The health of Chautauqua Lake has taken a step toward improvement.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the proposed total maximum daily load of phosphorus for Chautauqua Lake. This will allow the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission to continue moving forward toward its overall goal of a clean, healthy lake.
"Chautauqua Lake is impaired primarily because of phosphorus," said Jeff Diers, county watershed coordinator. "At the state and federal level, states with impaired bodies of water, over time, can go through what is called a total maximum daily load, which is an attempt at reducing phosphorus loadings, primarily from point-source pollution, but it's not limited to that."
An example of point-source pollution would be any municipality or system which, after treatment, discharges runoff water directly into the lake. According to Diers, point-source pollution is easy to measure, because discharge pipes are constantly monitored.
Non-point-source pollution, such as ground runoff, is much more difficult to measure.
"Any sewage treatment facility or housing facility that has a discharge to the lake that needs a permit now has more strict regulations," said Diers. "Within this document, phosphorus levels must be reduced. The big focus here are the waste water treatment plants. Approximately 25 percent of the annual phosphorus load to Chautauqua comes from waste water treatment plants."
According to Diers, all entities that discharge to the lake and need a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit will have new levels set on how much phosphorus they can discharge into the lake, with the goal being a significant reduction within the next five years. Diers said that penalties could be imposed by the state if compliance to the TMDL took more than five years.
The document which finally determines the TMDL for the lake has been quite some time in the making. According to Diers, there's been a large group effort by those with vested interests in the lake to write to local and state government to get the document finalized.
"The reason for the big push was so we could know what the final numbers were going to be," said Diers. "That way, the waste water treatment plants could begin to plan for the upgrades they would need. Without these numbers, no one really knew where what the starting point was. Now that these numbers are in place, the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and myself, as well as other members from waste water treatment facilities have formed a work group to develop a plan to identify the necessary steps to upgrade such facilities, as well as seek funding."
And while upgrading waste water treatment plants to reduce the amount of phosphorus they deposit into the lake could be costly, Diers said that there are grants which can be applied for to help mitigate the overall cost.
"At a local level, this isn't something that municipalities will be able to do on their own," said Diers. "We need to come together as a group to seek state and federal funds to assist with the upgrades to these facilities."
Diers said that reducing the phosphorus in the lake is paramount to bringing better health to the lake. If all the submerged aquatic vegetation were to be removed from the lake, according to Diers, the lake would be blue for three days, then an algal bloom would take over the lake. Phosphorus works as a fertilizer, so reducing the phosphorus in the lake is the best way to reduce pest vegetation.
"It took time to get this developed," said Diers. "Now we can begin the process of restoring Chautauqua Lake. It's an impaired water body and we're trying really hard to mitigate the effects of the phosphorus and make it as pristine as possible. This is a really big step."