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Weeds & Toxic Algae: Debate over treating conditions on Chautauqua Lake

Will conditions hurt tourism?

MAYVILLE, N.Y. - With so many new visitors in Chautauqua County this week for the opening of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, a lot of people have been talking about the economic boost it will have on this area.

But 2 On Your Side has also been hearing from some concerned residents living around Chautauqua Lake about a problem they feel might seriously hurt all this new tourism: weeds in the water.

“Our bay was one of the best bays around,” Karen tells 2 On Your Side. She lives on Burtis Bay and says a number of her neighbors have been having motor and pump problems on their boats, due to weed growth. “To go boating, and waterskiing, swimming...and all of that. Right now the bay is totally quiet because we can’t use it.”

Dr. Jim Cirbus is one of the volunteer members of the Chautauqua Lake Partnership, a group of residents trying to convince the DEC to consider herbicide treatments to take down the vegetation.

“The lake has gotten much worse," he says. "You talk to all the locals here and you’ll see there were never weeds down here.”

2 On Your Side found a number of weed harvesting boats out on the water Friday.

Douglas Conroe with the Chautauqua Lake Association says they’ve removed hundreds of tons of weeds this year already.

He acknowledges the weed conditions are the most intense along the area of the lake near Celoron Park. “Other areas of the lake, the plant growth are not really the heavy nuisance conditions,” explains Conroe. “So, it’s a matter of maintenance.”

“There’s still tons of weeds that end up in the bottom of the lake,” contends Dr. Cirbus, “floating around in the lake during the summer and end up at the bottom during the fall and winter. And that’s created a huge problem for the blue green algae because all of that nutrients in there, the phosphorus and nitrogen down there, accounts for over half of the phosphorus loading which feeds the algae.”

“We’re noticing this week that algal blooms are starting to show up, responded Conroe. “That’s normal for August and September. If the water doesn’t look like something you’d want to swim in, don’t swim in it.”

Conroe says actions are in place to take down the weeds and resulting algae blooms, “That’s why it’s important that the sewer improvements are happening. That’s why it’s important that the storm water runoff actions that are happening are coming along. That’s why it’s important that the tributary stream bank reinforcement projects are occurring.”

“The public is concerned,” added Conroe. “The Algal blooms are a public health concern. It’s not unusual for Chautauqua Lake, as it’s not unusual for other lakes throughout the country.”

“That’s the major problem here,” responded Cirbus, “including our county. A lot of the people in charge of taking care of the lake think there’s no problem in the lake. Everybody tries to deflect the weed problem away from the algae problem. They’re not addressing the real root cause of the algae and what’s making all this algae proliferate so much.”

Last year, the DEC allowed the partnership to treat about 30 acres with herbicide, which residents say made a huge difference for the area of Bemus Bay.

The partnership asked to treat more than 900 acres this year. They were only approved for 180 acres because of fish spawning and wildlife habitat concerns.

We’re told the partnership ultimately only had funding for 80 acres of herbicide treatment.

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