Chautauqua Lake Conservation
Chautauqua is committed to practicing responsible environmental stewardship and sustainability in the management of its property and as a member of the broader Chautauqua Lake Watershed community.
From its first days when visitors arrived by steamboat, Chautauqua Lake has been an essential part of the Chautauqua experience. In the intervening years, generations of families have swum, boated, fished, and enjoyed the natural beauty of the lake. Now, decades of onshore development and resulting runoff have disrupted the ecology of the lake, encouraging growth of harmful algae blooms (HABs) and threatening the lake’s immediate and long-term health. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has labeled Chautauqua Lake as “impaired,” under requirements of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Eutrophication — meaning excessive nutrients — is the primary cause of impairment. Ecological challenges such as eutrophication and climate change could reduce residents and visitors’ ability to enjoy the lake and negatively impact native flora and fauna. Left unchecked, these challenges could ultimately lead to a reduction of tourism in the area, shaking the region’s economy and devaluing the property around the lake, an existential threat to the county, the region and the Institution.
Chautauqua Institution will work with Chautauqua County and other key stakeholders to contribute to research, mitigation and preservation efforts on Chautauqua Lake. The impact of this conservation effort will be felt throughout the entire community, personally and economically. Ultimately, this collaborative effort will decrease HABs and promote healthy vegetation and lake ecology.
As one of many organizations around Chautauqua Lake, the Institution seeks to work together with the county and municipalities that surround the lake, as well as other nonprofit groups working hard to improve the lake’s water quality. This collaborative approach is important, as it gives the community the best chance to take positive action on addressing the lake’s ecological challenges.
What is the Institution best positioned to contribute to this combined effort? We see three categories of effort: Research, Collaboration, and Education
- Research: attracting more research to better understand the stressors on the lake
- Collaboration: with local and regional lake organizations to share learnings and work toward effective solutions
- Education: educational efforts to inform the public on the state of the lake and how it affects them
Building on the research from the past two summers, Chautauqua Institution will continue to work with The Jefferson Project. This summer, research will begin on the mechanics of nutrient pollution in the lake. Utilizing boat-based sampling, sensors and computer modelling, the project will collect data on how factors like weather and water currents affect HAB growth, where nutrients are entering the lake, and how the north and south basins of the lake interact with and affect each other. There will also be targeted sampling of tributaries and areas around the lake, using advanced technologies and computer modeling to form a more accurate picture of how the lake ecosystem works.
In future years, the project will adopt a multidisciplinary approach to evaluate the data and confirm findings. As the Jefferson Project shares the results of their research, we will work with the greater community to apply their research to lake management solutions.
Chautauqua Institution recognizes that we are one part of a team of municipalities, organizations and dedicated citizens who are deeply committed to improving the health of Chautauqua Lake. It is critical that the work that we do complements or contributes to the work of other entities around the lake, so that we can all find and implement effective remediation to the ecological challenges of the lake.
Public engagement and education on Chautauqua Lake’s water-quality challenges is also important. Chautauqua Institution hosted the 2022 Chautauqua Lake Water Quality conference as an opportunity for the public to hear about the research happening on the lake directly from scientists who are involved. The Institution will continue to facilitate similar gatherings in the future. Additionally, we are expanding our lake education to youth and family programs on the Chautauqua grounds during the summer, including water-quality sampling classes. The Institution also hosts local schools on the grounds in the spring, and water-quality awareness programs are offered during these field trips. We will continue to look for ways to engage the public on the state of the lake.