By Rick Constantino Watershed Coordinator
Chautauqua Lake is a special asset for the people that live, work and recreate in its watershed.
Your mission, should choose you choose to accept it, is to participate in watershed planning to protect the lake and its watershed. Planning for water resources simply put is a very difficult but important process. Water moves. It's used and reused, it interacts with many things along its path and it has enormous economic, cultural, political, and, of course, physical significance. Reasons for the demise of several civilizations during the past 3,000 years illustrate the difficulty of properly planning for this important resource.
The Chautauqua Lake Watershed, which encompasses 180 square miles of our county, has a significant history of community stewardship and studies undertaken by numerous organizations, municipalities, colleges and its residents. The Chautauqua Lake Management Commission, the latest organization to be formed, is building on the efforts of talented people and groups over many decades to develop a comprehensive Watershed Management Plan to manage our water resource.
Recently, articles, public meetings and discussions about the Chautauqua Lake Watershed say the creation of a watershed plan offers much promise, but why and what is this plan? Does this promise come from simply repackaging past efforts or is there something more? To begin to answer these questions we must first address a simple misconception; a watershed management plan is not a study of the lake or its watershed. The plan is intended to integrate the knowledge that we have gained from current and past studies and to develop consensus on a strategy and a work plan for achieving water resource goals that have been identified.
With that in mind we can address a second common question; The weeds are in front of my house, so why are you planning for the watershed? The Chautauqua Lake Watershed is eight times larger than the lake; the impacts from activities within the watershed have a significant impact on the Lake. Water resource planning requires looking at the big picture, the watershed. Looking at the big picture within the watershed requires recognition of all the interrelationships that occur between a host of natural and man made components and processes. A watershed plan's goal is to make everything fit together or make sense with respect to each of these relationships so that those "touchy," "nasty," or "irritable" issues like the excessive growth of aquatic vegetation, algal blooms and sources of sedimentation can begin to be addressed. The causes of these issues arise from the interactions of nature, science, technology, culture, and resource limitations in the watershed. We, as a community, have the ability to have some influence on these causes.
Watershed planning involves decision-making about how we as a community manage both the positive and negative impacts on water quality. The first phase of a watershed management plan is intended to provide a framework for identifying and quantifying specific causes and sources of watershed and lake issues. After this initial phase occurs, strategies are developed and tools are recommended to reduce impacts from the causes. Some examples of these strategies and tools might be: working with municipal officials to determine which land use - www.chesapeakebay.net/landuse.aspx?menuitem=14671 - and zoning changes can be updated in order to guide development - www.chesapeakebay.net/developmentpressure.aspx?menuitem=19514 - and conserve important water resources; reducing stormwater - www.chesapeakebay.net/stormwater.aspx?menuitem=19515; restoring vital resources, such as stream corridors, to improve water quality; and educating citizens about behavioral choices that have impacts on water quality such as lawn fertilization. All of these potentially beneficial choices require community consensus and resources if they are to be implemented.
In order for the watershed management plan to be successful it needs to be implemented. Many of us have heard of well developed plans that are written, blessed and then sit on shelves and never implemented. The causes of this syndrome can be varied. In the past community consensus was not always reached and an outside consultants recommendations may not have had public support, or the community may have lacked adequate resources. However, another more common error was that plans did not to include a road map for the implementation. Therefore, being an action oriented plan, the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Plan will outline an implementation schedule that identifies each responsible entity and their specific tasks. Phasing of the plan's implementation will then be based on numerous variables including cost and available funding, measurable achievement of objectives, community acceptance, and monitoring needs.
Once completed, the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Plan will provide the guidance on actions to be taken to protect our water resource that has long been sought by public officials, agencies and citizens. However, that is where the tough work begins, not ends. Leadership will be required from government officials, non-for-profit organizations, residents, and other stakeholders to continue to work together and implement the action plan. Much like a business, stakeholders will need to determine how best to invest in our watershed in order to achieve the agreed upon goals. Money, technical assistance and other resources will need to be made available to communities that want to put their watershed management plans into action. If your mission is to be successful, everyone who lives, works, and recreates in the Chautauqua Lake Watershed needs be involved in implementing and supporting the plan. Unlike "Mission Impossible", with your help and commitment this effort will not self-destruct.
If you are interested in learning more about improving watershed and lake issues and potential solutions, the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission will be hosting a free public meeting entitled Come Grill us on Your Watershed on Tuesday, Aug. 18, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Long Point State Park, just north of Bemus Point. The meeting will highlight strategies and recommended actions steps from the Watershed Management Plan that is currently under development. The meeting format will be an open house with a walk around survey. Members of the CLMC, county staff and our consulting team will be available to answer your questions or hear your comments first hand. There will be no fee to enter the park and hot dogs and hamburgers will be provided at no cost. So drop by and become informed about your lake and watershed and be a part of the solution.