Chautauqua Lake is a resource of incredible natural beauty, treasured for its aesthetic and recreational value year-round.
Chautauqua Lake is in serious trouble. An overabundance of excessive nutrient and sediment inputs into the lake from the surrounding watershed has been wreaking havoc on the lake’s water quality and its natural systems.
Chautauqua Institution has started to take actions towards preventing further damage to lake through Drainage Management and Sustainable Shoreline Action Plans. But everyone can help!
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP) have identified phosphorus to be a primary nutrient of concern for causing water quality problems in the lake. Phosphorus is necessary nutrient for plant growth, and is considered a “limiting nutrient” because plant growth will cease when all available phosphorus is used, regardless of how many other nutrients are available. It is usually found in very small concentrations in the aquatic environment, and excessive addition of phosphorous can lead to problematic increases in plant and algae growth, along with other water quality problems.
Common sources of high nutrient runoff include:
- Wastewater and stormwater runoff
- Runoff from construction sites
- Runoff from impervious surfaces such as parking lots, roads, buildings and driveways
- Runoff from agricultural irrigation
- Runoff from pasture or mowed lawns
- Septic tank leachate
Everything runs downhill
This website details the problem, tells you what Chautauqua Institution is doing to combat it, and what you can also do to help. Chautauqua Lake needs us all!
“Without any improvement, the increasingly poor water quality resulting from
unmitigated and high-nutrient runoff can begin to impact everything from fishing
and recreational activities to tourism and property values.”
Chautauqua Institution has implemented the first steps of a comprehensive Drainage Management Plan that addresses stormwater flow throughout the grounds. This is the first comprehensive action taken by a lakeside community on Chautauqua Lake.
The plan is also supported by two grants awarded by New York state totaling $696,000.
In November 2010, Institution staff was presented with the report conducted by Foit-Albert Associates, an architecture and engineering firm based in Buffalo, N.Y., with a history of designing environmentally proactive stormwater management systems on the grounds. The firm reviewed the existing storm sewer system at Chautauqua and used topographical data and actual rainfall data to calculate and map the flow of stormwater and performance of storm sewers.
Foit-Albert reviewed state and federal environmental policies as well as local priorities. Specifically, the NYS Draft Chautauqua Lake TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) document that will affect storm water discharge nutrient management requirements and the recently prepared Chautauqua County Chautauqua Lake Management Plan were considered.
The Drainage Management Plan divides Institution property into 13 separate and distinct drainage areas, what are called “mini watersheds.” Improvements for each area were identified and prioritized. The plan calls for significant action:
- Reduce nutrient input to the lake
- Retain water where it falls
- Eliminate or decrease runoff discharge into Chautauqua Lake
- Remove nutrients from water running into lake
- Employ best management practices
- Serve as a demonstration community
This spring, the Institution was awarded two grants totaling $696,000 from Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act funds distributed through the New York State Green Innovation Grant Program for the construction of an environmentally proactive surface and sub-grade stormwater management system. The Institution is required to provide a 10-percent matching investment.
Efforts already taken under the Stormwater Management Plan have proven effective, including a wetlands area near South Gate and rain gardens at Fletcher Hall, Peck Ave. and South Lake, and in University Park; and buffer gardens at the Glidden shoreline.
Once nutrient-rich water gets into Lake Chautauqua it is almost impossible to filter the nutrients back out. So the concept behind rain gardens and no-mow zones is to preemptively and naturally filter the water of its nutrients before it reaches the lake.
Water flow-rate slows at it enters the garden, allowing for larger particles and sediment to settle out, and for other suspended solids to be filtered out as the water is absorbed into the soil.
Excess nutrients dissolved in runoff water are taken up and stored by the plants, which prevents them from contaminating the lake
Rain Garden Fun Fact:
Despite what their name might imply, rain gardens are actually dry most of the time (except after rainfall events, when they absorb water). They look just like normal gardens!
Native plants that tolerate a range of wet and dry conditions are used in these gardens since they are at times flooded with water and at other times
Did You Know?
A 2010 national study of lakes conducted by the U.S. EPA identified three main stressors that affect water quality: lack of natural shoreline habitat; physical complexity of the shoreline; and nutrient loading.
Chautauqua Lake suffers from all three. A survey of the Institution’s shoreline conducted by the Watershed Conservancy showed that 80% of the Institution’s shoreline evidenced these three stressors. (source: SSAP)