Rabab Al-Sharif | Staff Writer
The Chautauqua Property Owners Association put the health of Chautauqua Lake at the forefront of its first open meeting of the season with the subject, “Why Water Matters to Chautauqua Property Owners.”
The CPOA hosted an open discussion with Tom Cherry, operations supervisor of the Chautauqua Utility District sewage treatment plant, and Doug Conroe, Institution director of operations.
“Chautauqua Lake is impaired, and the evidence is growing that the critical point may still be reached from which there is no return,” CPOA President Hugh Butler said.
Because of that danger, he said, the CPOA annually donates funds to the Chautauqua Lake Association and the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy.
The board voted unanimously to pledge $1,000 to the CLA in hopes of gaining matching funds to provide needed weed control this season, Butler said.
“This is a lot of money for a small organization such as ours,” he said. “But our board feels strongly that the lake needs every assistance that we can give it today so that it will be here for us tomorrow.”
The federal government has declared Chautauqua Lake impaired. The lake’s phosphorous level is too high, Conroe said, and its nitrogen level is close behind.
Cherry said an impaired lake is a threat to drinking water and the sewage plant needs to make changes to help the lake.
The wastewater plant is putting out 2 parts per million of phosphorous during summer, Cherry said. It puts out less than 1 PPM during winter.
The Department of Environmental Conservation requires the plant to decrease its phosphorous output to 0.2 PPM, Cherry said.
“That’s going to be very difficult to do, very expensive,” he said.
Cherry said the plant does not buy phosphorous and dump it in the lake — it’s coming down the drains.
“If we can remove it from the water, we do — and we try really hard — but if we can’t, it goes to the lake,” Cherry said.
The plant, designed in 1978, was not made to take out large amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen, he said.
“We have no choice but to upgrade the plant and take other actions if we’re going to save the lake,” Conroe said. “The lake is beautiful, but it’s at its saturation point, and it can’t absorb further nutrients.”
The Institution is also taking steps to lower nutrient levels, he said.
Among other actions taken, the Institution has replanted a hillside by University Beach to absorb water and nutrients before they reach the lake, he said. A bumper strip has also been added along the edge of the sea wall by the beach to stop runoff.
The tree planting program, in which the Institution plants a minimum of 50 trees each year, also helps, because trees absorb phosphorous.
The good news that comes with those actions, Conroe said, is that they are aesthetically pleasing and less costly than expanding the treatment plant.
Expanding the plant could cost $20 million, Conroe said.
“The green way to do it is saving taxpayers’ money,” he said.
To reduce one’s impact on the lake, Cherry and Conroe recommended the limited use of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides on lawns; avoiding pouring any greases, oils or other hazardous materials down the drain; and using a compost receptacle instead of a garbage disposal.
Anything you put down the drain through a disposal has to be removed by the wastewater plant and sent to the landfill, Cherry said.
Conroe added that mowing your lawn less and keeping your mower on a higher setting will allow the lawn to better absorb runoff.