Partnership aims for healthier lake

It is a given that Chautauqua Lake is one of the gems of our county and the well-being of our economy hinges on its ability to support human and ecological activity. It is also quite evident that Chautauqua Lake and its watershed are in need of ongoing intervention so that the health of the Lake does not continue to decline.

Much has been accomplished in the efforts to help Chautauqua Lake over the past several years due to the collaborative work of groups and individuals such as the county executive, the County Legislature, the organizations represented on the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission, the Chautauqua Lake Inter-municipal Committee, the Chautauqua County Department of Planning & Economic Development, local foundations, volunteers and many other stakeholders. Their successes, as they pertain to Chautauqua Lake, have included, but are not limited to, the development of a Watershed Management Plan, the creation of an occupancy tax which funds a watershed coordinator and watershed-related projects, annual weed harvesting, the preservation of environmentally-significant areas, execution of state-funded pre-engineering studies as they relate to erosion and dredging in key areas of the Lake, advocating for the establishment of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that will mandate reductions in phosphorus entering the Lake, the development of a Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Management Plan (currently under way), and many other important initiatives related to the health of the Lake and its watershed.

While the key stakeholder groups have been quite successful in getting to this point with the resources at hand, there will always be a need to evaluate and assess the groups’ progress towards improving Chautauqua Lake. A review of the status of their progress, and in considering what has been learned, some stakeholders have suggested that the current framework for collaboration may not be appropriate to undertake what is needed to address future needs for the lake’s well-being.

In response to these concerns, efforts to investigate the potential for an alternate organizational structure have begun to take shape. As a result of these efforts, there have been concerns voiced by devoted volunteers that their efforts and successes are unappreciated because the county and others are seeking to facilitate the formation of a new management entity for Chautauqua Lake. Nothing could be further from reality. The CLMC, which is a volunteer group representing the interests of all of the Chautauqua Lake agencies, was created by the County Legislature as an ad-hoc group and has been operating in an advisory role only. As such, they have performed their duties well.

However, now is the time for the implementation of actions, for which the CLMC in its present form does not possess the structure, resources or authority to realistically undertake. If we are to successfully implement the necessary steps that are critical to the health of Chautauqua Lake, we need to consider a new organizational structure or management group to coordinate lake management efforts.

Our goal is to continue to work collaboratively to provide one common voice for Chautauqua Lake with a common agenda for action. That being the case, an informal partnership of stakeholders and individuals was recently approved for funding from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation in order to “Define, Establish and Market a Management Structure for Chautauqua Lake.”

The funding is being used to engage an objective facilitator (Peter J. Smith & Company) to take the lead on facilitating the conversation between agencies and other community stakeholders in developing a management structure that has broad collaboration and participation while having the authority to pursue funding opportunities and execute projects.

Ultimately, this process will culminate in the establishment of a new unified entity with the legal authority and resources to properly manage and implement Lake and Watershed projects outlined in the Watershed Management Plan, as well as the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Plan that is currently under way. Although it is unclear at this time exactly what this new entity is going to look like or precisely how it will function, the methodology for creating it must have broad stakeholder input; it must seek to represent the interests of both the private and public sectors; and it must ultimately rely on the expertise of a broad range of disciplines.

Although we have a pretty good idea of what the problems are as they relate to Chautauqua Lake and how they need to be addressed, setting priorities and establishing an implementation framework is the challenging part.

In short, we view this initiative as an opportunity to re-organize, re-energize, and re-tool for the new task of implementing identified lake management initiatives through key stakeholder group input and public discourse.

Thank you for your continued support and stay tuned!

Mark Geise is with the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development.