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The Cattaraugus County Water Quality Council's grant application to study sewage treatment alternatives at Lime Lake recently was ranked first in 27 statewide mini-grant applications.

If the state Department of Environmental Conservation is able to fund the project, $14,000 could be spent on a collaborative effort to find ways to eliminate excessive underwater vegetation, high bacteria counts and chemical herbicide levels that have been recorded at the spring-fed lake.

The Council, which began in 1991 and joined 20 agencies and public organizations to work on water pollution problems around the county, met in mid-November and discussed how to implement the grant if it is funded by the state.

"They will try to do the first eight projects that ranked highest for mini-grants by the DEC," said Council Chairman Brian Davis.

Most of the 150-acre lake's problems are attributed to about 300 private septic systems. Many of these are too close to the water and are leaking effluent through gravelly soils.

In the state's "Priority Water Body" list, Lime Lake is designated one of 15 area lakes, streams or rivers deserving closer scrutiny. Its quality is deemed "impaired" due to the nutrients found in the water, with bathing and fishing activities affected by the pathogens and limited oxygen levels documented in past studies.

Besides the Council, grant partners will include the Cattaraugus County Health Department, the Town of Machias, the Lime Lake Cottage Owners Association and the Cattaraugus County Soil & Water Conservation District. Some in-kind services will have to be supplied in the effort, Davis said.

Gary Beck of the County Health Department told the group that subsurface springs have helped dilute bacteria to safe levels and many water samples have appeared safe. "But nitrate levels are high, at over five parts per billion," Beck said.

If funds are awarded, various tasks will be assigned to each of the grant partners. The Town of Machias will receive $12,000 of the award to pay an engineer to report on the feasibility of alternative sewage disposal systems. These could include a sewer district, on-site treatment systems, or clustered systems to serve groups of homes.

The county Health Department will use the other $2,000 to test up to 50 private wells for nitrates and coliform levels, and will also survey well and septic records and investigate any suspicious discharges. A hydraulic model of the lake's inflow and outflow will be drawn up.

The Soil and Water Conservation District will be responsible for designing a monitoring program and nutrient budget, while also determining how upstream agricultural activities affect the lake's water quality.

The Lime Lake Cottage Owners Association will survey homeowners to determine the level of support for alternative sewage treatment methods and will gather statistics on occupancy and patterns of water usage.

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