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The Demise of the Lake District

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency (CLPRA) voted against recommending the formation of a lake district for the maintenance and protection of Chautauqua Lake. Unfortunately, a lot of aspects of the proposed lake district made it hard for local landowners to get on board. Residents, including myself, shared concerns of facing a large annual tax coupled with uncertainties as to who would decide where the money went once it was collected. While I’m glad the Agency didn’t make a hasty decision to push forward with the district before working out all the details, it does seem sad that it came down to an “all or nothing” vote after so much time, effort, and money had been expended. Could the vote have been “not yet” or perhaps “not like this?”

I believe the idea of a lake district was well intentioned and that sustainable, consistent, and ongoing support for the health of Chautauqua Lake is important. Maybe $10 million was too much for us all to wrap our heads around, but wouldn’t Louise Ortman’s idea of $5 million spread out across Chautauqua County be a big step in the right direction? Even if was required to be shared by all our County’s waterways? If given more time, couldn’t the Agency have worked with the County, local municipalities, and other stakeholders to put together more details on how money would be expended and on what projects?

Following the vote, the Agency was terminated, leaving these questions on the table. When asked what’s next for lake protection, CLPRA Chairman Pierre Chagnon said that he didn’t know. Well, I don’t know either, but I do know that a lot of the unanswered questions for the lake district revolved around what the money would be used for and who would decide that. Perhaps then, the time is right for us all to come together to take a deeper look at where work needs to be done to really improve the health and quality of Chautauqua Lake over time.

The Environmental Protection Agency promotes what it calls the “watershed approach,” where stakeholders and communities coordinate to “define and address watershed-scale challenges and solutions.” Groups come together and develop a watershed management plan that identifies shared management and improvement goals and agreed upon strategies to achieve them.

Back in 2005, the Chautauqua County Legislature saw the pressing need for better information and a plan for in-lake and watershed protection for Chautauqua Lake. They formed the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission (CLMC), which was tasked with the creation of this exact type of watershed management plan for Chautauqua Lake. In 2010, the CLMC produced the Chautauqua Lake Watershed Management plan. What happened to this plan? Are we using it at all to direct our money and efforts? Does it need to be updated?

My takeaway from the demise of the proposed lake district is that we need to do our homework first. Let’s dust off the 2010 management plan (which I’m sure also took a lot of time, effort, and money to put together). Let’s all meet at the table to update our priorities and the strategies we want to use to achieve them. Once we have our strategies, we will have a more concrete understanding of what it will cost. Working together to do our homework would give the County the ability to provide landowners with more concrete funding numbers and clear answers for when they’re asked, “where is the money going to go?”

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few months that I’ve heard someone say the phrases “putting the cart before the horse” and “proposed lake district” in the same sentence. Now seems like a good time to take the reins on that problematic horse and get him back in front of the cart.

by Whitney Gleason, CWC Deputy Executive Director


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