In 2012 the Chautauqua County Legislature formed the Lake Erie Management Commission to address Lake Erie watershed concerns in the county.
According to George Borrello, commission chairman, the lake’s concerns are wide ranging.
“Our commission is made up of stakeholders to address issues from water quality, invasive species, flooding and other issues that affect the future of Lake Erie and the waterways that flow into it in Chautauqua County,” Borrello said.
Commission members include current and former county legislators, town officials, representatives of the county Health Department and the Soil and Water Board as well as other community members representing farming, economic development, water quality, sport-fishing and conservation groups. The group is overseen by Jeffrey Diers, Chautauqua County watershed coordinator.
According to Diers, the commission seeks to be a unified voice for the concerns of all communities in the Lake Erie watershed.
“It’s our hope to identify issues in the watershed and seek out resources to address them,” Diers said. “Additionally, we seek to educate residents, and other stakeholders, on the concerns facing Lake Erie and its watershed.”
Some immediate concerns the commission is focusing on are lake water levels and the need for dredging in harbors and creeks along Lake Erie. According to Borrello, “debris and silt in areas like Cattaraugus Creek, Dunkirk Harbor and Barcelona are at critical stages. This, combined with low water levels, affects everything from the ability of people to launch and navigate boats to the threat and severity of flooding.”
As part of the education initiative, the commission has formed an education subcommittee that has created an informative presentation. Members have been seeking out groups and organizations that have an interest in learning more about the commission, the Lake Erie watershed and the issues facing waterways.
One of the first questions that the LEMC education subcommittee addresses in its presentation is what constitutes a watershed. Watersheds encompass the total land that drains to a stream, river or lake, and/or is the source of groundwater recharge for that river or lake system. Watersheds are important because they determine the source and quality of drinking water.
In addition to education, the commission board created and distributed a comprehensive survey to municipal governments, and other groups, designed to get feedback on watershed-related concerns.
“The survey is an important part of setting the priorities of the LEMC,” Borrello said. “The responses will be incorporated into the agenda we will set for the future.”
The survey was modeled after a survey put out by the Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance, a group representing all three counties along Lake Erie in New York state. Joanna Panasiewcz, LEWPA watershed coordinator, said the mission of LEWPA is, “to foster collaboration and partnerships within the watershed to address regional water quality and quantity concerns and in doing so, protect and enhance our Lake Erie resource.”
The Lake Erie Management Commission and Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance will work closely to improve water quality in Chautauqua County and Lake Erie. Some members of the LEMC board also serve as members of LEWPA.
“We are hopeful that the coordinated efforts of LEMC and LEWPA will bring about needed funding and focus on the issues we face in protecting Lake Erie as well as improving the quality of life for residents and visitors to the area,” Diers said.
County Executive Greg Edwards compared the Lake Erie Management Commission to the important work done on behalf of Chautauqua Lake.
“The formation of the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission was the beginning of the successful efforts to address the issues affecting that lake. It is my opinion that the formation of the LEMC will accomplish the very same thing for Lake Erie,” Edwards said. “The issues affecting this Great Lake are challenging. But leaders in our county have proven that they can solve these problems if they come together, focus on the facts, apply all available resources and gain the support of our state and federal officials. I am confident that we can do this for Lake Erie, and I am pleased to work with this group to make this happen.”
The Lake Erie Management Commission meets once a month at the Cornell Lake Erie Research Center in Portland.