Three water conservationists from organizations across the 23rd congressional district joined Tracy Mitrano for the July 1 edition of her weekly online show, "Tuesday Talks with Tracy."
John Jablonski, executive director of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, said his organization has conserved 1,100 acres of land across Chautauqua County and deals with the harmful algae blooms that have been worsening in Chautauqua Lake for about 20 years.
Hilary Moshier, coordinator for the Finger Lakes Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, also known as PRISM, and associate director for invasive species programming at the Finger Lakes Institute, said PRISM has cooperated with agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service to fight harmful invasive species, like Giant Hogweed, which causes soil erosion and has a dangerous toxin in its sap.
Steve Penningroth, executive director and senior scientist for the Community Science Institute, a not-for-profit in Ithaca, works with volunteers to collect samples from Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka Lakes and test them for harmful bacteria, like E. coli and cyanobacteria, a type of algal bloom, as well as salt, sediments and nutrients.
Mitrano, the Democratic challenger for 23rd district, which includes the Greater Olean area, asked the three panelists about the various water quality problems facing their respective areas and suggestions for actions that could help.
The three also spoke about educational opportunities for children; restoration of hedgerows; how Mitrano will help protect waterways, and how climate change and litter impact water and the economy.
Claudia Wheatley, an employee of Mitrano’s campaign, took and presented two questions from the online audience.
Jablonski identified sedimentation, phosphorus build-up, harmful algae blooms and zebra mussels as the primary issues faced by Chautauqua Lake. He said sedimentation caused by deforestation has led to an increase in harmful algae blooms and that zebra mussels, an invasive species, have eaten beneficial algae in the lake. Additionally, Chautauqua Lake has more phosphorus in its sediment than it should because of wastes dumped into it.
“There’s a lot going on,” Jablonski stated. “It’s hard to separate those things out. We can only control what we’re doing now and, hopefully, stem the decline of our lakes going into the future by aggressively and effectively applying the management techniques that we have as tools now.”
Moshier said it is difficult to decide which issue facing the Finger Lakes is the worst because many exist.
“There’s so many confounding variables that you can’t just tease out: ‘It’s the zebra mussels that are causing the nutrients loading,’ or, ‘It’s because our trees are being degraded and more erosion’s coming into our watersheds,’ ” she said. “A lot of these issues combine, and then they hit a critical mass, a tipping point, and then you start to see deleterious effects.
Penningroth said Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka Lakes all are affected by an overabundance of nutrients and harmful algae.
“The link between nutrient transport and harmful algal blooms is not entirely clear,” Penningroth said. “We know that nutrients do promote harmful algal blooms. However, you can have blooms in lakes with low nutrient concentrations.”
Penningroth offered that the answer to all the issues affecting the panelists’ areas could lie in federal and state leadership or regulation, as well as public education about the issues and their complexity.
Mitrano agreed, saying, “That kind of leadership has not been in evidence for this area.”
Jablonski said funding for landscape-scale land conservation programs to restore the land that filters water into the lake could be integral in solving the issue of sedimentation.
Moshier also pointed to funding as a solution, but he also noted the need for mass surveys to get more information on how these issues are affecting the people living near the lakes.
A viewer in the Cayuga Lake area asked whether there were any children’s educational programs about watersheds and if there were any dangers to children playing near Cayuga Lake.
Penningroth said the issues discussed pose no clear danger for children.
He also said the Community Science Institute has a youth education program called 4-H20. He encouraged viewers to contact the institute’s outreach coordinator, Nate Launer, at (607) 257-6606 or go to its website for further information.
A viewer in the Seneca Lake area asked whether any of the panelists were helping restore hedgerows, which are lines of native vegetation used to separate fields, in the various lakes because their removal caused more sedimentation in Seneca Lake.
Penningroth said, “Unfortunately, you can do what you want on your own land. So somebody decides to cut down their hedgerows, I don’t think there’s a lot you can do about it. The answer would be to educate new farmers and encourage them.”
Moshier added the Finger Lakes Institute has a new watershed manager, working with farmers to decrease sedimentation caused by issues like the removal of hedgerows.
Another viewer asked Mitrano what she would do to protect the district’s waterways.
“I would like to exercise leadership in this area," she answered. “I am interested in bringing people together in order to utilize the federal agencies that we have in an alignment with state and even local areas to address these environmental issues.”
Then, Wheatley asked a question of her own: How is water impacted by climate change?
“We have the hydrologic cycle,” Penningroth said. “If you increase the temperature of the air through the greenhouse effect, then you are automatically redistributing the water on the planet. So, you have more flooding in some places, more drought in other places.”
Wheatley also asked Moshier about the economic impact of litter and climate change.
“The Finger Lakes region is the highest for economic revenue tourism dollars outside the lower Hudson and New York City areas,” Moshier said. “So, people are coming here; they’re spending money; they want to see good water quality.”
Moshier said people don’t want to see debris, flooding and low-wake zones, which would not allow people to boat.
She predicted people in the Finger Lakes area will commit environmentally friendly behavior to continue the revenue and keep the lakes eye-pleasing for tourists, if only they have the education.
In conclusion, Penningroth thanked Mitrano for bringing the panelists together and discussing environmental issues.
“I think that it’s one small step towards working together better,” Penningroth said. “Water (is) a collective resource, a collective benefit. So, the solution, I think, has to be collective.”
Jablonski spoke of the Lake Chautauqua area. “We are probably the richest part of the world here with what we have in water resources, and we need to treasure it.”
He also called for more water treatment programs.
“For healthy lakes, I would like to see healthy watersheds because it all starts in the watersheds, and I don’t think people understand the impact or the effects of watershed degradation,” Moshier said. “So, if they were to be able to understand watershed scale, management or restoration, we will have healthy lakes.”
Mitrano said, “I feel like I’ve learned a lot and look forward to being in touch with you in any way that we can all work together to make a better environment.”
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