Lake Erie Management Commission formed

In 2012 the Chautauqua County Legislature formed the Lake Erie Management Commission to address Lake Erie watershed concerns in the county.

According to commission chairman George Borrello, these concerns are wide ranging.

“Our commission is made up of stakeholders to address issues from water quality, invasive species, flooding and other issues that affect the future of Lake Erie and the waterways that flow into it in Chautauqua County,” Borrello said.

The LEMC’s membership is made up of current and former county legislators, town officials, representatives of the county Health Department and the Soil and Water Board as well as other community members representing farming, economic development, water quality, sport-fishing and conservation groups. This diverse group is overseen by Chautauqua County Watershed Coordinator Jeffrey Diers.

According to Diers, the LEMC seeks to be a unified voice for the concerns of all communities in the Lake Erie watershed.

“It’s our hope to identify issues in the watershed and seek out resources to address them. Additionally, we seek to educate residents, and other stakeholders, on the concerns facing Lake Erie and its watershed,” Diers said.

The LEMC goals are summarized in its Mission Statement: “For years to come, the Chautauqua County Lake Erie Management Commission, LEMC, will seek funding for projects that will promote the quality and sustainability of both the Chautauqua County Lake Erie watershed and waterways, as well as the quality of life for residents and visitors.”

Some immediate concerns the LEMC is focusing its attention on are lake water levels and the need for dredging in harbors and creeks along Lake Erie.

According to Borrello, “Debris and silt in areas like Cattaraugus Creek, Dunkirk Harbor and Barcelona are at critical stages. This, combined with low water levels, affects everything from the ability of people to launch and navigate boats to the threat and severity of flooding.”

As part of the education initiative, the LEMC has formed an education subcommittee that has created an informative presentation. They have been seeking out groups and organizations that have an interest in learning more about the LEMC, the Lake Erie watershed and the issues facing our waterways.

One of the first questions that the LEMC education subcommittee addresses in its presentation is, “what is a watershed?” Each of us lives in a watershed, which encompasses the total land that drains to a stream, river or lake, and/or is the source of groundwater recharge for that river or lake system. Watersheds are important because they determine the source and quality of your drinking water.

In addition to education, the LEMC board created and distributed a comprehensive survey to municipal governments, and other groups, designed to get feedback on watershed-related concerns.

“The survey is an important part of setting the priorities of the LEMC,” Borrello said. “The responses will be incorporated into the agenda we will set for the future,” he continued.

The survey was modeled after a survey put out by the Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance, a group representing all three counties along Lake Erie in New York State.

Joanna Panasiewcz, LEWPA Watershed Coordinator, explains that the mission of LEWPA is, “to foster collaboration and partnerships within the watershed to address regional water quality and quantity concerns and in doing so, protect and enhance our Lake Erie resource.”

The LEMC and LEWPA will work closely to improve water quality in Chautauqua County and Lake Erie. Some members of the LEMC board also serve as members of LEWPA.

“We are hopeful that the coordinated efforts of LEMC and LEWPA will bring about needed funding and focus on the issues we face in protecting Lake Erie as well as improving the quality of life for residents and visitors to the area,” Diers said.

Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards compared the LEMC to the important work done on behalf of Chautauqua Lake. “The formation of the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission was the beginning of the successful efforts to address the issues affecting that lake. It is my opinion that the formation of the LEMC will accomplish the very same thing for Lake Erie. The issues affecting this Great Lake are challenging. But leaders in our County have proven that they can solve these problems if they come together, focus on the facts, apply all available resources, and gain the support of our State and Federal officials. I am confident that we can do this for Lake Erie, and I am pleased to work with this group to make this happen.”

The Lake Erie Management Commission meets once per month at the Cornell Lake Erie Research Center in Portland. The next meeting is Feb. 11. The public is welcomed and encouraged to attend board meetings. For more information, contact Diers at 661-8915, or diersj@co.chautauqua.ny.us.