The Beauty of a Buffer

By Whitney Gleason, CWC Water Quality Program Manager

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and volunteer residents, with financial support from the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, were able to get out and plant three beautiful demonstration buffer gardens a couple weeks ago. We are so thankful to have been able to partner with Heritage Ministries, Winchester Dock Association, and the Village of Mayville to create these examples of how easy and beautiful protecting our lakes and streams can be. Throughout the planning and planting process we realized that people have a lot of questions about buffers. Today I hope to help answer some of those questions and encourage you all to get out and visit these beautiful gardens to learn more.   

What is a buffer? A buffer is simply a growth of trees, shrubs, or perennials that acts as a filter for runoff. As water falls on a mowed area, it runs off. If you have a buffer growing, that water will hit the taller plants of the buffer which will slow it down, giving it time to soak into the ground where extra nutrients and pollutants can be absorbed by those same plants before the water continues on to our streams and lakes.

Does it matter what typeof plants you have in your buffer? The short answer is no – any buffer is better than no buffer at all. Any buffer will help prevent runoff and erosion and will help filter out extra nutrients and pollutants. That being said, using native plants in your buffer will add a lot of extra benefits! Native plants are built for our area and will be hardier and more resilient. They have stronger and longer root systems that do a better job of catching and filtering runoff and preventing erosion. Native plants also provide food that is needed for the wildlife in our area that only feed on specific foods – such as the beautiful Zebra Swallowtail which only feeds on Pawpaw.   

What if I want to help protect our lakes and streams but don’t have time to plant a garden? The great news is that you don’t have to do any planting at all if you don’t want to! Growing a buffer can be as simple as choosing a strategically located ten-foot-wide area not to mow. At Waldmer Park where the Winchester Dock Association’s buffer garden was planted, the other homeowners along the shore decided to work with CWC to create this type of no-mow buffer along the remaining waterfront of the park. As you can see in the photo above (of the Winchester Dock Association's demonstration buffer garden and Waldmer Park homeowners' no-mow buffer), this can be just as beautiful as a landscaped garden and will provide the same benefits for our waterways. 

Can I help protect our lakes and streams even if I don’t live on the water? Absolutely! Every mowed yard has runoff – whether it’s located on a lake, stream, pond, or not. By planting a buffer or letting a no-mow buffer grow, you will help slow that runoff down so that it can be filtered before making its way into our waterways or the groundwater system. Whether your yard is big or small, lakefront or not, you too can help protect the health of our community by creating a beautiful filter in your yard.    

I hope these answers have been helpful, but if you still have questions or would like personal help creating a buffer on your own property, CWC is here for you! Through our free LakeScapes program, our Conservationist will schedule a time with you to come out to your home or business and work with you to create a buffer that’s beautiful for you and for the health of our waters. Simply email her at or call our office and leave a message at 716.664.2166. Together we can build a healthy community – one yard at a time!

Take A Virtual Wildflower Walk with Jack & Becky!

Take A Virtual Wildflower Walk With Jack & Becky!

Our annual Mother's Day Wildflower Walk has gone virtual for 2020! Take a tour of our Bentley Nature Preserve with naturalist Jack Gulvin and CWC President and biologist Becky Nystrom and see some of the many spring wildflowers that are blooming this time of year! Then, be sure to visit this beautiful preserve for youself and see all of its beauty in person – minding social distancing protocols, of course! 

Living Lawns or Pesticide Peril?

By Becky Nystrom, CWC President

Springtime is here, and the backyard beckons. Our lawns and landscapes grow more lush, lovely and greener with each new day. But green is not necessarily “green” from an environmental standpoint, especially when it comes to lawns.

While America’s turf collectively covers an area the size of Michigan, most of these mowed and manicured spaces are biologically barren, offering little of value to wildlife. Unless a diversity of wildflowers, native grasses, “weeds,” woody shrubs and hedgerows are allowed to grow there, beneficial bees, wasps, beetles, bugs and spiders find it difficult to complete their life cycles, and in turn, so too do songbirds, frogs, bats and other wild creatures dependent upon them. Native species especially suffer. Nesting, resting, feeding and nursery areas for wild things become fragmented and marginalized, and nature’s rhythms are disturbed and disrupted. And as humans labor intensively to manage, mow and tend their beloved lawns, fumes, noise, fertilizers and pesticides pollute the air, land and water, at great cost to people and nature alike.

Worst of all are the pesticides, which are poisons intentionally designed to impair and kill, and which harm beneficial species in addition to those targeted.  Homeowners apply some hundred million pounds of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to their lawns and landscapes each year, often in the form of “weed and feed” products, and the trend is on the increase. Heavy application in suburban lawns and gardens far exceeds that for other land areas in the U.S., including agricultural lands. Ironically, lawns most heavily managed with chemicals, such as golf courses, tend to have the most serious pest problems, since the “pesticide treadmill” leads to resistant strains of aggressive, often non-native pests, while decimating beneficial species and natural biological controls. Pesticides can also drift into our homes and contaminate indoor air and surfaces with toxics. And water, that precious resource for all life, is being polluted at unprecedented rates. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey show that 2,4-D is the number one “weed and feed” herbicide most frequently detected in streams and shallow ground water throughout the country and that 56% of streams contain one or more pesticides at concentrations exceeding federal standards.                               

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn and landscape pesticides identified by the EPA, nearly all have potential for serious impacts on human health, with special risk to infants and children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. According to Health Impacts of 30 Commonly Used Lawn Pesticides (, 17 are possible or known carcinogens, 11 are associated with birth defects, 19 are linked with reproductive problems, such as reduced fertility and low sperm counts, 24 can cause liver or kidney damage, 14 are neurotoxic, impairing the nervous system, 18 are suspected or known endocrine (hormone) disrupters and 25 are sensitizers and/or irritants associated with asthma, inflammation and

allergic reactions.

While more research is needed, troubling findings are emerging. A National Cancer Institute study reports that household and garden pesticide exposure increases the risk of childhood leukemia nearly sevenfold. Dogs whose owners use 2,4-D lawn products are at higher risk for canine malignant lymphoma and bladder cancers. Studies by the American Cancer Society reveal increased human risk for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in association with pesticides such as mecroporp (MCPP) and glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup®, extensively used on lawns and agricultural lands alike). The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Dicamba, 2,4-D, and MCPP (often found together as Trimec®), and glyphosate are known respiratory irritants that can inflame skin and mucous membranes, trigger asthma and cause coughing, nausea, and vomiting. Infants exposed to weed-killers within their first year of life are 4.5 times more likely to develop asthma by the age of five. Many lawn pesticides are estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptors, and exposure can increase miscarriage and breast cancer risk in women and interfere in reproductive development in males.

Beyond human health, pesticides harm wildlife, including honeybees, butterflies, ants, earthworms, ladybugs, songbirds and other beneficial creatures. They also threaten tiny soil microbes so critical to nutrient recycling, decomposition and the natural fertility of the earth. Additional impacts occur when heavy rains and erosion wash these toxics far downstream, leading to contamination of lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies. Of the 30 pesticides noted earlier, 19 have been detected in groundwater, 20 have the potential to leach into drinking water supplies, 30 are toxic to fish and other aquatic life, 22 are toxic to birds, 29 are toxic to bees, 14 are toxic to mammals and 11 have the potential to disrupt developmental pathways in numerous organisms from frogs to fish and reptiles.

Let’s stop this craziness. There are healthier, more life-sustaining ways to create lovely green landscapes and support wildlife and enhanced environmental quality at the same time. For help creating non-toxic or less-toxic lawns and healthy backyard habitats, contact the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, Cornell Cooperative Extension or a local organic landscaping services. An abundance of excellent information may also be obtained at the Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns at (Lawns and Landscapes), (The Dark Side of Lawns) and National Wildlife Federation’s (Garden for Wildlife).

A Special Message from CWC

Dear CWC Friends and Supporters,

On behalf of the CWC Board of Directors and Staff, we wish you health and safety during this COVID-19 time of concern and uncertainty as well as peace and resilience in the midst of it all.

During this unprecedented and altered season, we are reminded of what is most important in our lives – the health and well-being of our loved ones and a healthy, sustainable, and safe environment. We are also reminded how very grateful we are for each of you, our members and supporters, and wish to thank you for your dedication to our shared mission of preserving and protecting the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, and watersheds of our region. Be assured that while this coronavirus crisis brings new and difficult challenges, CWC resolves to successfully navigate these waters and continue our conservation education, technical assistance, and land conservation work while abiding by the New York State Department of Health and CDC COVID-19 safety protocols to protect our staff, families, and the public.

More than ever, we encourage you to seek what is beautiful and good. Our thousand-plus acres of preserves ( remain open for you to explore and enjoy (using social distancing, of course!) from sunrise to sunset, and they await your visit. The gifts of nature found in our woodlands, wetlands, meadows, and lakeshores promise refreshment, renewal, and healing for body, mind, and spirit. Walk the trails…take your children fishing…launch your kayak…meander among the wildflowers…and seek the joy and serenity of nature amidst our chaotic and crazy world.

Please let us know if you have questions or concerns or if we can assist you in any way. Because we are conducting our work remotely for the foreseeable future, the best way to reach us is by e-mail to or to a specific staff person using the format of (e.g. You may also call the office at 716-664-2166 and leave a message. We will respond as soon as possible. Please note that, using proper safety and social distancing protocols, and as we are able, we intend to:

  • continue providing technical assistance on landscaping for water quality, stormwater management and habitat enhancement on lands owned by families, businesses, organizations, and the public; 
  • remotely offer conservation staff site evaluations and guidance on healthy lawn care practices, improving yards for capturing and filtering stormwater via buffers, swales, and raingardens, and/or for creating habitat for pollinators and wildlife; 
  • continue to steward and protect our preserves, along with the biodiversity they sustain and the hydrological and ecological gifts they provide;
  • conserve and restore lands with collapsing stream banks and severe erosion to arrest the thousands of tons of soil entering our lakes and fueling excessive plant growth; and
  • continue identifying and conserving woodlands and wetlands which capture, store, filter, and deliver clean waters to our lakes, streams, and drinking waters downstream.

CWC is thankful for your partnership in our work to conserve the landscapes, habitats and waters that make the Chautauqua County a special place in which to live and recreate – a refuge for humans and wildlife alike! With your help, we will continue delivering conservation activities and stewardship of our beautiful preserves for many years to come. Please consider a donation to assist us through these very challenging times, and thank you so much for your support!

With warm regards,

Becky Nystrom, Board President, and John Jablonski III, Executive Director

Lessons from the Lake: Making Sense of the Science

By Rebecca Nystrom, CWC President


If only Chautauqua Lake, an ecological and economic treasure in our midst, could speak. How might we better understand and steward its complex ecosystems upon which so much aquatic life depends, while thoughtfully addressing the ongoing challenges of excessive plant growth, harmful algal blooms, and newly introduced invasive species? The lessons from the lake are knowingly complex and deserve our attention.


We know our lake is an old lake, rich in plant diversity and an abundance of living things. We know its “underwater gardens” are the spawning and nursery beds for bass, muskellunge, bluegill, and sunfish, and the basis for our famous warm water fishery. Nymphs of mayflies, damselflies, and dragonflies crawl among the leaf blades, feasting on tinier insects, while larvae of moths, caddisfly, and weevils forage upon tender buds and feathery foliage. Little things are eaten by bigger things, and all are woven together in an amazing web of interdependency, complexity, and connection. Beyond their importance to the food web, rooted plants release oxygen, stabilize the sediments, and reduce resuspension of silt and nutrients, all significantly improving water quality.

We know the photic zone, where light penetrates the water column, is home not only to obvious lake plants, but also to innumerable tiny green dancers, floaters, and clingers known as phytoplankton, or “algae.” Interestingly, “blue-green algae” aren’t really algae at all, but rather a form of aquatic bacteria known as “cyanobacteria.” In plant-dominated lakes such as Chautauqua, most algae and cyanobacteria are normal residents serving as microscopic oxygenators and food-producers of open waters.


And yet…increased nutrient loading from urbanization of the watershed, erosion, loss of natural shorelines and buffered stream banks, poor lawn-care practices, and warming waters have led to plant-clogged waterways, unhappy humans, and conflicting ideas on solutions. Overgrowths of algae form unsightly and smelly surface scums. More insidiously, harmful algal blooms occur with greater frequency, some producing liver and nervous system toxins dangerous to humans, pets and aquatic creatures alike.


For decades, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has strived to conserve and heal our watersheds to enhance the quality of our local waters over the long term. Our work encourages landowners, municipalities, and others to employ lake-friendly landscaping practices, construct erosion control systems, and install vegetated stream buffers, swales, and rain gardens to intercept pollutants before they flow downstream. We have protected over 1,000 acres of wooded wetlands, streambanks, shorelands, and other natural areas which absorb and filter rainfall and stormwater, reducing downstream nutrient loading and sedimentation which otherwise fuel excessive weed and algae growth in our waterways.


Recent attempts to eradicate the long-naturalized Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed via herbicides in Chautauqua Lake have brought clashing viewpoints and confusing messaging. Alarming evidence of harm to our lake’s south basin ecology has caused deep concern and dismay over the apparent collateral damage from the narrowly-informed “quick-fix” chemical approach. Can’t we do better? What lessons may be learned?


Comprehensive scientific research by Robert L. Johnson of Racine-Johnson Aquatic Biologists (2019 Status of Chautauqua Lake’s Aquatic Macrophyte Community Determined by a Lake Summer/Early Fall Survey and Estimates of the Associated Invertebrate Community) warns that the ecological balance of the lake’s lower south basin may now be at risk. We should listen to the science. We hope that the Region 9 State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will listen.


Mr. Johnson is a highly respected scientist who has studied the aquatic plants of Chautauqua Lake, and the tiny insects that consume them, for eighteen consecutive years. His Racine-Johnson Point Intercept-Rake Drag plant sampling method is recognized as the industry standard. His methodology has been endorsed by the NYS DEC and has provided the invaluable long-term data that has guided plant management decisions by the Chautauqua Lake Association (CLA) since 2002. The entirety of his reports and all conclusions are solely the work of Racine-Johnson. He is an award-winning member, former director, and past president of the Northeast Aquatic Plant Management Society and is widely recognized for his professional contributions towards improved understanding of the ecology of non-native species Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) and Hydrilla. He has served for many years as an independent third-party scientific herbicide-monitoring consultant for the DEC and other lake associations throughout New York State.


Compared to his May 2019 survey and previous years of sampling in the southeast end of Chautauqua Lake, Johnson’s 2019 mid-September survey revealed only barren sediment and unprecedented absence of nearly all aquatic plants. His report warned that these areas were in critical decline, likely linked to the 2,4-D and endothall herbicides applied to the 388 south basin acres in May 2019. Reports by seasoned fishermen using marine sonar concurred that nearly all traditional south basin weed lines were lost and replaced with thick algal blooms persisting into late fall.


An earlier and very limited third-party monitoring report by Princeton-Hydro, contracted by the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, failed to identify the more widespread, longer-term outcomes documented by Johnson. Its researchers, however, did note that “total biomass…decreased markedly at the treatment sites,” and documented evidence of “potential herbicide drift and resultant reduction in nontarget plant biomass” approximately 7-14 days after treatment. Because both herbicides used are known to damage plants many weeks or months after being introduced into the water column, Princeton-Hydro’s one-month study could not possibly capture those longer-term consequences revealed by the Racine-Johnson work.


And while the Princeton-Hydro report did not address algae, the Fall 2019 Racine-Johnson report expressed concern that cyanobacteria and HABs were visually extensive and worsened as one proceeded south, consistent with herbicide application areas. It warned that the wholesale loss of rooted aquatic plants from the littoral zone could push the shallow south basin of Chautauqua Lake from a stable macrophyte-dominated state toward a turbid and undesirable algal-dominated one, with loss of our critical warm water fishery and increased risk of algal scums, cyanobacteria, and toxic HABs.


So much is at stake. There are enough lessons here to justify significant changes in future management decisions for Chautauqua Lake. Let’s listen to the science.


Rebecca Nystrom, President
Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy
413 North Main Street
Jamestown, New York 14701


Rebecca Nystrom is a local naturalist and retired JCC Professor of Biology, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia, respectively. She is a founding director of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, member of the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance Scientific Review and Advisory Committee, and member of the Macrophyte Management Strategy Technical Review Committee.  

(Chautauqua Lake photo by Jen Leister; Becky Nystrom photo by CWC)

Wild Jamestown

By Jeff Tome

Turtles basking on a log slipped off into the green water as we paused to watch them. The area was so green that it practically glowed. Large ferns mixed with flowers and Skunk Cabbage leaves bigger than your head made the forest look like some exotic swamp. Large patches of Blue Vervain, a purple flower, towered over our heads and was covered with butterflies. If a Tyrannosaurus Rex had stumbled out of the steaming forest and started chasing us up the trail, it would not have been a total surprise.

This stunning area of natural beauty was found right near the heart of Jamestown. The new bike trail that starts near McCrea Point wanders right along the outlet to Chautauqua Lake. Painted Turtles and families of Wood Ducks lined logs on the long ditches.  Kingbirds and Cedar Waxwings perched on dead trees and dashed out to grab insects on the wing from overhead.

On a Tuesday morning, there were plenty of other people using the trail. A family with a Golden Retriever walked from the picnic pavilion at Chadakoin Park. Two fishermen biked slowly past with coolers strapped to the back of their bikes. A pair of teachers rode past on bikes, enjoying their summer vacation. One of the great parts of a bike trail is that users pass each other quickly, then it feels like you are alone outside again.

Chautauqua Lake is an amazing place, but unless you have a boat (and I don’t) there aren’t many places where you can enjoy the lake and the plants and animals that live next to it. This short path cruises by forests, swamps, fields and the lake itself. It’s like biking through a highlights reel of all that makes the lake and its surroundings amazing.

In part, the lake is amazing because of the land around it. The wild creeks, marshes and swamps filter and clean the water before it gets to the lake. This makes the lake a little bit cleaner. These wild spots, like the ones along the bike trail, also provide incredible scenery to pass through.

A mile goes fast on a bike, but it’s hard not to stop and watch the butterflies, birds and turtles as you go past. After a couple of minutes, it is easy to forget that you started the trail in the city. Traffic sounds fade away and are replaced by bird, buzzing cicadas and the startled yelps of Wood Ducks as they realize they have been seen and take off for another part of the swamp.

Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist and Exhibits Coordinator at the Audubon Community Nature Center, a former CWC board director and a longtime CWC volunteer.  

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  For more information, call 716-664-2166 or visit or


Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Western New York

By Jonathan Townsend

I have always been fascinated by the topic of wild edible and medicinal plants. There is something truly freeing about the ability to collect food and medicine from the wild, without money and without a prescription. Not to in any way impinge on the many benefits of modern medicine, but you don’t always need to go to a doctor for an antibiotic, a cough or a cold. Often the nutritional content of wild edibles is significantly higher than store bought goods, and in fact, many of our current synthesized medicines originated from a plant's tissue.

An excellent example of this is the Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which is high in Vitamins A, C, D and B complex. Once a staple in our diets as a salad green or used for the roots or flower head, the dandelion is now considered a weed and the target of whatever herbicidal regiment one has at hand. Despite this crusade at elimination, the dandelion is still ubiquitous, still surviving and also still available to all who want to try. The bitter taste associated with dandelions and many wild salad greens is actually an indication of a potent antitoxin that purifies the blood. Burdock (Arctium lappa) is probably better known for the extremely irritating way it spreads its seeds, but it is another common “weedy” plant that has a myriad of medicinal uses. Burdock is an extremely potent blood purifier and is used world-wide. Additionally, it can be used to treat gout, sciatica, psoriasis and acne. The young tender leaves are also great as salad greens or cooked down in vinegar.

A word of caution – you cannot simply just go out into the world and start collecting random plants to eat! Every year, there are many who get sick and even die from accidental poisonings. For example, Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) and Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) are in the same family and both look very similar. Poison Hemlock is extremely toxic, while Queen Anne’s Lace is essentially wild carrot. However, Queen Anne's Lace has a characteristic dot in the center of the flower head, a fairly easy distinction – provided you know this key distinction! Knowing how to accurately identify a plant is essential. Botanists utilize several plant attributes that tell them very precisely what genus and species they are looking at. This skill and knowledge can only come with time and study and is imperative to gain if you want to succeed at collecting edible and medicinal wild plants safely.

Besides toxic look-alikes, the location of where you are collecting is also important to note. Many areas of our world are polluted through human activity, and there are regions that have naturally occurring toxic elements like mercury and lead. Old railway tracks may also seem like a promising area to look, but keep in mind the powerful industrial strength herbicides that were sprayed on the tracks while the railway was operational. This may seem funny to some, but make sure there aren't any dogs, cats or large populations of wild animals where you are picking – urine and feces can be a contaminant that no one wants to accidentally ingest! Proper preparation of a plant can be critical as well. Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is covered with nasty looking spines, apparently inedible. However, boiling the young leaves removes those spines and provides a spinach-like meal. There are many other plants that must be properly dried or cured before eating as well, so make sure you learn the most appropriate method for the species of plant at hand.

Besides the more common lawn and roadside species, there are many native species that have potent medicinal properties. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a common ornamental garden plant in Western New York. Many herbal teas and immune boosting remedies contain Echinacea, which can be found in the roots, leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant. Two other native wildflowers that have edible or medicinal uses are Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) and Beebalm (Monarda didyma). Jerusalem Artichokes have a very tasty potato-like tuber underground, which can be prepared in exactly the same way. They are fast growing and easy to propagate. Beebalm, a member of the Lamiacaea or Mint family, is commonly used in teas. Mints often contain thymols, which are potent antibacterial or antifungal chemicals. Native Americans would boil the roots and leaves to concoct an antiparasitic tonic.     

There are hundreds of other useful species in this area, including cattails, assorted berries, various trees with edible fruits, leaves and nuts – even pine pitch can be used medicinally! So why not look further into this most fascinating topic – not just as a hobby but also as a way to further connect with the natural world and improve your physical health at the same time!  

Jonathan Townsend is a Conservation Biologist at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, co-owner of Royal Fern Nursery, former CWC Conservation Lands Manager and local bat expert.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or


Yard Waste, A Natural Pollutant

By CWC Conservationist Claire Quadri

Have you ever seen your neighbor push a wheelbarrow full of grass clippings to a nearby empty lot and, without hesitation, dump the load over the edge of the streambank?  What about seeing someone rake his or her yard clean of fall leaves and then pile them behind some shrubbery along the water’s edge? Or maybe you’ve seen a homeowner or landscaper hose lawn clippings or leaves down a nearby storm drain?

You may have not given any of these practices a second thought. Most people wouldn’t. After all, yard waste is natural.  It’s biodegradable.  It isn’t a pollutant…..or is it?

When we think of pollution, most of us picture leaking drums of chemicals, oil spills or industrial discharges. However, a pollutant is any material that occurs in a harmful concentration in a particular environment. Pollution does not have to be synthetic. Even natural, biodegradable materials – like yard waste – can cause pollution when present at a concentration and in a location where they cause harm.

When yard waste is dumped on the water’s edge, in a ditch or in a stream, rain eventually washes these materials to a nearby waterway, which leads to the lake. Grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste contain nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that act as fertilizer in the lake. Excess nutrients fuel the growth of lake weeds, algae and even harmful algae blooms, which are toxic to humans and animals. Additionally, the decomposition of excess weeds and algae in the lake can use up the oxygen that fish and native plants need.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already designated Chautauqua Lake as an impaired water body because of high phosphorus concentrations. The addition of more phosphorus and nitrogen from decomposing yard waste further pollutes the lake. Even though yard waste is natural and biodegradable, its decomposition results in even higher concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen, which further contribute to the lake’s pollution.

If you don’t own lakefront property, you may feel that it doesn’t matter what you do with yard waste. However, the rainwater flowing from your property carries yard waste to ditches, streams and street drains which then transports these materials to the lake, even if you live far from the lake. You may also feel that the relatively small amount of landscaping waste from your yard won’t make a difference to the health of the lake. Your yard may not seem very big, but together, all of the yards around Chautauqua cover a lot of ground! Your yard care choices, combined with everyone else’s, will make a difference to the lake’s water quality.

So how do you keep your yard from polluting the lake? Keep your yard waste in your yard!  

Use a mulching mower, and leave the pulverized grass clippings on the lawn. In the fall, either mow and mulch the leaves where they fall or mow and mulch a whole pile of leaves.  If you leave the pile in place until spring, you will have high-quality compost without any additional effort! When leaves and grass clippings remain in your yard, the phosphorus, nitrogen and organic matter are a valuable fertilizer and soil supplement. However, these same materials, if they had reached the lake, would have been a pollutant.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  Funding has been provided by the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance. 

Summer is Finally Here!

By Susan M. Songster-Weaver

Did you hear the story about the conversation between two friends? The one said to the other, “I love summer in Chautauqua County!”

“Really?” said the other.

“Yep,” the first one replied. “It was on a Sunday last year!”

All kidding aside, I thought this joke was going to ring true this year. With a frost in June, torrential rains, tornadoes and temps in the 40s at night, what else would a person think?  But finally, by the end of June, it seemed we are getting some beautiful summer weather. With at least two great weekends now under our belts, I am ready for some all-American outdoor picnics and parties here on Chautauqua Lake.

Burtis Bay is proving to be a very popular place as the weather improves. Kayakers are here almost every day. I watch them paddle by, two or three to a group. They seem to especially enjoy the magnificent sunsets that we are becoming well known for. Water skiers can be seen out there having the time of their lives. Tubers can be heard whooping it up as they bounce and fly over the waves. Pontoon boats, filled to the brim with smiling human cargo, slowly float by heading to the Rod and Gun Club or perhaps the new Harbor Hotel. Laughing children are running around chasing each other while their parents rest in the shade with a cold beverage. Everyone else is out on the docks, trying their luck with worms and lures to catch some tasty pan fish for supper.

Both of the rental houses near me have been full of happy visitors from Erie and Cleveland. Music is heard while games of lawn golf are being played. People are in their blow-up chairs floating near the docks. Nighttime brings campfires and s’mores with more music and laughter. All is good in the world.

I love the lake and everything that goes with it. My heart was bursting with joy the other morning when I woke up to a lovely sunrise. I stepped out onto my deck to take it all in. The sun was casting its magical glow on the world, promising a new day of hope and happiness, when I saw an amazing site. Out on the calm lake, as the blanket of morning fog was saying its good-byes, I saw a lone paddle boarder. A kindred spirit, I thought – someone who knows what pure joy is. Maybe later this week that will be me.

I have my dock in, and the boat is in the water just waiting for some anxious kids wanting to go for a ride. So far this summer, I have kayaked and swam in the lake, but I need to get my paddle board out there. I haven’t used it in two years because of the weeds and algae. I am hoping I can still stand up on it! Water skiing has always been my love, but I am a little leery to try it after having my knee replacement surgery. Maybe I will get brave enough if we have an especially calm day and have a trusted friend behind the steering wheel.    

As I am finishing up this article, my mind is wandering to the next few days. Family is invited here for the 4th of July holiday, my sisters are coming for the weekend and another family party is scheduled for Sunday. I’ve got cleaning and cooking to do, but with the lake and the weather so nice, I might just put off the work for a little bit. I might just grab a book and my lounge chair and go sit in the sun. They’ll understand, right? After all, what else is take-out for?

This summer, I hope you get to enjoy the weather and the area. We are blessed. See you on the water – and be sure to keep a lookout for me on that paddle board at dawn!

Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  For more information, call 716-664-2166 or visit or


Are You Fertilizing The Lake?

By John Jablonski III, CWC Executive Director

Is lawn fertilization contributing to Chautauqua Lake’s algae blooms?  Chautauqua Lake has experienced seasonal algae blooms for decades.  It has always been a relatively fertile lake, with abundant plant and algae contributing to very productive panfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, and muskellunge fisheries.  Our lake has suffered from more prolonged harmful algae blooms in recent summers.  Changes in the lake community after its invasion by zebra mussels, global warming and possibly other contributing factors have caused blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms to be documented at various locations in the lake resulting in beach closures and advisories against swimming more often.  Cyanobacteria sometimes produce toxins that can be poisonous to pets and humans.  Blooms with the toxins present are called “harmful algae blooms” or HABs for short.

What does it take to produce a bloom?  The cyanobacteria need to be present with warm water, sunshine and nutrients – especially phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) – in order to grow and reproduce rapidly, thus creating a bloom.  In freshwater lakes, phosphorus is a main driver of algae blooms. New York State prohibits the sale of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus for routine lawn fertilization.  One can purchase lawn “starter” fertilizer containing P to help germinate recently seeded lawns.  Phosphorus is naturally abundant in most soils in our region.  P comes from treated wastewater, runoff from fertilized crop fields and pastures and as part of soil eroded from yards, fields, stream banks, and construction sites.  It falls from the sky as a pollutant in precipitation.  Nitrogen is different.  Many species of cyanobacteria can get their nitrogen directly from nitrogen gas dissolved in lake water.  Our atmosphere is 78% nitrogen.  Many cyanobacteria need abundant phosphorus to grow but don’t need nitrogen in the “fixed” form of ammonia or nitrate to grow.  However, nitrogen in the form of ammonia, urea or nitrates  is much more efficiently used than gaseous nitrogen.  Recent research on Chautauqua Lake by SUNY-Fredonia researcher Jennifer Phillips Russo, working with Courtney Wigdahl-Perry, Ph.D., indicates that the growth of cyanobacteria implicated in “blue green algae” blooms in Chautauqua Lake, may be promoted by fixed nitrogen in the form of ammonia or nitrate.  In Russo’s experiments, cyanobacteria growth accelerated with when abundant phosphorus and these nitrogen compounds are present.  This is affirmed by similar findings for Microcystis for Lake Erie.  The SUNY-Fredonia Benchmark Chautauqua Lake Studies had also indicated that algae abundance was limited by available nitrogen compounds in the 1970s.  Other research has found that the abundant cyanobacteria in the Lake is of the species that need nitrogen in the water in a form other than the gaseous form in order to grow abundantly to form blooms.

Where does “fixed” nitrogen come from?  Soil organisms can obtain nitrogen in the air and use it to form nitrogen compounds more readily available for plants and algae.  It comes from animal and plant wastes.  It comes from human wastes.  It comes from fertilizers spread to grow crops and lawns across our watersheds.  

Wastewater treatment plants on Chautauqua Lake have limits on the amount of nitrogen compounds that can be released to the lake.  Nitrates from animal wastes, fertilizers and septic systems are soluble and can pass through the soil into the nearest water body or into well water.  Many farms in our region are implementing agricultural environmental management plans to reduce loss of nutrients from cropland to waterways. Turf grass, such as Kentucky blue grass in lawns, needs annual applications of nitrogen fertilizer to be healthy in a lawn.  Other species need less nitrogen.  Fertilizing lakefront and watershed lawns in the summer may directly contribute to feeding harmful algae blooms in our lakes.  Just because the product says “phosphate-free” doesn’t mean it won’t fertilize lake algae and plants.

If you choose to fertilize your lawn.  To avoid fertilizing lake algae and plants, follow the recommendations in the Cornell Lawn Care Without Pesticides publication that, for most low maintenance lawns, a fall application of nitrogen fertilizer is best (between Halloween and Thanksgiving).  Following this recommendation will make it least likely that the nitrogen in the fertilizer will wash into the nearest waterway and into the lake where it can fuel nuisance algae blooms during the summer season. You can access the entire Lawn Care Without Pesticides document for more detailed lawn care information at  

The Conservancy invites all landowners and landscapers to “get on board” to starve the algae and save our lakes by carefully managing healthy landscapes for healthy waters! Contact the CWC for assistance with landscaping your yard or grounds to improve its benefits for clean water and wildlife habitat.

CWC will be holding its annual meeting at 5 PM Saturday, July 20th at Webb’s with Dr. Rebecca Schneider, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, presenting on the impacts of global warming on our waters and the role of land trusts in addressing those impacts. The public is invited to attend.  For more information, visit or, or call 664-2166.