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Another Voice: Chautauqua Lake herbicide use creates confusion

By Jane Conroe and Becky Nystrom

With summer in full swing, the rush is on for people to make the most of the next two months and enjoy the season. For many from Western New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Canada and elsewhere, the waters of Chautauqua Lake are a central part of their summer plans.

However, many lakegoers are discovering something new to deal with this year – questions and concerns about chemicals and water safety.

In late June, as part of a “data collection project,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation allowed the waters in Bemus Bay of Chautauqua Lake to be treated with herbicides. The goal is to help combat weeds and excess vegetation in the water. However, not even the DEC and the contractor, SOLitude Lake

Management, could seem to get their stories straight, leaving the public in a cloud of chemical confusion.

When the initial permits were issued by the DEC on June 20, the restrictions for the chemicals being applied – Endothall and 2,4-D – called for refraining from certain uses of the water for 14 days. By June 23, before a single droplet of either chemical entered the lake, the restrictions and warnings had been changed to a period of 24 hours.

The scientific makeup of the chemicals had not changed, yet are we to believe that the harmful effects of those same chemicals in our lake water had been reduced by nearly two weeks?

Chautauqua Lake is a Class A water body, meaning that it serves as a drinking water source. In late June, two chemicals were permitted to be applied into these waters. One chemical, Endothall, is known to affect native species that are vital to healthy aquatic life. The other chemical, 2,4-D, was not recommended for use by the county’s macrophyte management study nor by the DEC’s own regulations.

Now that approximately 30 acres of the lake in Bemus Bay have been treated with these chemicals, residents and visitors are left with only questions.

How safe was the water one day after the application? Now that over 4,800 pounds of 2,4-D have been applied, how much may still remain in the sediments of Bemus Bay? Can we, our children, grandchildren, neighbors and pets safely enjoy Chautauqua Lake? Does the DEC understand the impact these chemicals could have on the lake’s ecosystems in the future? More important, what is next in the DEC’s plans when new permit applications come forward for potentially adding more acreage or more chemical treatment areas?

For more than a decade, the DEC has ruled that a supplemental environmental impact statement would be required before any permit would be issued for the use of herbicides in Chautauqua Lake. No SEIS was required or supplied as part of this “data collection project.” Moving forward, let’s hope the DEC lifts this chemical cloud and allows for proper public dialogue for the protection of Chautauqua Lake.

Jane Conroe lives in Maple Springs and is a longtime advocate for the health of Chautauqua Lake and its residents and visitors. Becky Nystrom is a biologist, conservationist and college educator.

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