News & Announcements

Update on Chautauqua Lake Preservation Issues

Dear Chautauqua Institution Property Owners: 

Following the conclusion of a highly successful season at Chautauqua, I am writing to provide an update on Chautauqua Institution’s efforts to stay informed of developments related to the use of herbicides on Chautauqua Lake. Indeed, the care for our lake is a year-round enterprise. To revisit my July update on lake issues, please click here.

Toward the end of the summer, members of Chautauqua Institution leadership team (Executive Vice President and CFO Sebby Baggiano, Vice President for Campus Planning and Operations John Shedd and I) met with Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell. In September I also received a reply to a letter I sent in August to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which controls all decisions about Chautauqua Lake. Both the meeting and correspondence concerned the latest information available regarding the early-summer use of herbicides in Bemus Bay and ongoing efforts to care for the lake. In both instances, we articulated the Institution's primary interests in this matter: that there be no negative effect of any weed- and bacteria-management activities on our community's drinking water, shoreline and recreation activities; that we and our community be kept up to date on matters of the lake's health and conservation activities; that future permitting processes for herbicide use include an opportunity for public comment; and our concern that trusted authorities on the lake and its health continue to disagree about the use of herbicides to combat Chautauqua Lake's water-quality issues.

Assemblyman Goodell reported that the results of the Bemus Bay herbicide testing indicated that the products were successful in affecting the invasive weed species, but not the native weed species. (Note: This is disputed by local scientists and organizations concerned with lake issues, who believe the invasive weeds were already in a natural decline in a normal seasonal cycle.) Regarding the Institution's water supply, Chautauqua Utility District has increased the frequency of their regular testing, and have not found any sign of the herbicide.

The DEC said public input was not required due to the type of testing/research that was being conducted, which Assemblyman Goodell said was to determine the effectiveness of the chemicals Aquathol and Navigate. Any future permit requests to the DEC for non-research-related herbicide application will require a public input period and a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). According to County Executive Horrigan, we are not aware of any such permit requests, though we do anticipate one to be submitted by a group called the Chautauqua Lake Partnership, which is aggressively advocating use of herbicides. Other lake organizations disagree with this approach. County Executive Horrigan said it is not likely that any future permits would be approved for herbicide application in the lake's north basin due to water intakes like Chautauqua's.

Regarding next steps, Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance (CLWMA, of which Chautauqua Institution is a founding member) has issued a request for proposals to obtain an independent scientific adviser/facilitator to lead development of an action plan and implementation strategy for the lake and watershed management actions over the next several years. It is expected this contract will be awarded this fall. John Shedd, vice president of campus planning and operations, is the Institution’s representative to the CLWMA. We are also meeting with leadership of the Chautauqua Lake Partnership to better understand their position.   
Chautauqua Institution will again write to legislators and the DEC applauding the CLWMA's initiative to engage an independent scientific advisor/facilitator and requesting that no new permits for herbicide treatment at Chautauqua Lake be considered while the action plan and implementation strategy for the lake and watershed management actions are in process. It is Chautauqua Institution's perspective that, given the disagreement among engaged community members and regional experts, it is critical that we seek qualified, independent advice on the preservation and conservation of Chautauqua Lake and the Chautauqua Lake watershed so that all involved parties may proceed in a sound, unified and coordinated manner.

Chautauqua Institution remains tirelessly committed to its role as a leader for lake conservation initiatives. We've demonstrated successful reductions in nutrient load (nitrogen and phosphorus) entering Chautauqua Lake through our aggressive stormwater management projects that apply natural mitigation methods. (Based on the conversation with the county executive and assemblyman, the Institution will package the results of our efforts into a presentation that can be used as a demonstration to communities around the lake to help others make similar safe decisions.) 

We will continue to keep you informed on matters concerning Chautauqua Lake and its health as they may evolve in the coming months. Through our efforts and those of all who care about the lake, we are committed to a process that protects and maintains a healthy Chautauqua Lake for us and for future generations. 


Michael E. Hill 

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