Chautauqua Lake Association Urges NYC DEC to Deny Herbicide Permits on Chautauqua Lake

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The Chautauqua Lake Association filed strong scientific and regulatory objections to municipal applications to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permits to apply two powerful herbicides to 1,200 acres of Chautauqua Lake this summer.
 
The 10 objections range from failure to notify all effected shoreline property owners, to the lack of scientific understanding of lake currents that could spread the chemical herbicides well beyond even the large sections of the lake for which they are proposed. The chemicals are Aquathol K, containing endothall, and Navigate, containing 2,4-D. In addition, since the applications seek use of two herbicides, the effective coverage area is actually double, 2,400 acres, under the current permitting request.
 
“The CLA sent this letter to the DEC because it views the lake as a whole, and these flawed applications would introduce, with inadequate safeguards, potent chemicals throughout the lake,” said CLA Executive Director Douglas Conroe. “This is improper and DEC officials know that. The CLA does not oppose effective and selective herbicide application, but this helter-skelter approach could cause enormous environmental damage.”
 
Referencing lake-management priorities expressed by a consensus of lake-monitoring and lake-stewardship groups, the letter states that: “The 1200+ acres of herbicide treatment will endanger the fish, birds, amphibians, animals and insects that rely on the lake and … the use of 2,4-D may pose a risk to the human use of the lake’s waters, given World Health Organization guidance, along with the opinion of the numerous nations that have banned the product.”
 
The letter also notes: “The proposed [herbicides] are not target-species selective, and will definitely eradicate at least the habitat for Chautauqua Lake’s premier Muskie population.”  
 
The DEC permit applications were drafted by the Chautauqua Lake Partnership – a group of homeowners centered in Bemus Bay – which the towns of Busti, Ellery, Ellicott, and North Harmony and the villages of Celoron and Lakewood then filed.
 
The CLA, a 65-year-old lake-management organization supported by state and county funding and private fundraising, is part of a 10-organization lake-related consensus group that helps make the lake safe, navigable and economically productive for residents and visitors, using environmentally and scientifically sound methods. CLA Board President Paul O. Stage signed the letter on behalf of the board, which endorsed it at a meeting Feb. 27.
 
The 10 objections cited to the DEC are:
 
1. Inappropriate herbicide use endangers fish, animals, birds, insects and plants. In February, 10 entities, including the CLA, confirmed their continuing consensus regarding the management of Chautauqua Lake, including plant management. Their Conservation Statement for Chautauqua Lake specifically addressed using herbicides by stating: “Herbicide use can be suitable when it fits within an invasive-species management plan, and when other methods of nuisance plant control are not workable.” The statement further notes that short-term solutions must not endanger fish, birds, amphibians, animals and insects that rely on the lake, nor should they pose a risk to   human use of the lake. The permit applications, as submitted, conflict with the conservation statement’s consensus that the long-term, deeply experienced lake-related entities formed. The applications also do not fit within any invasive species or lake management plan ever written. And, the applications fail within the DEC’s own Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Bureau of Habitat Technical Memorandum of March 17, 2016, titled Recommendations Regarding the Use of Aquatic Herbicide In Fish-Bearing Waters of the State, guidance specifically regarding the utilization of herbicides in invasive species colonized lakes. Further, it has been clearly demonstrated that when fully implemented aquatic plant harvesting can work to control nuisance plant growth in Chautauqua Lake – without resorting to herbicides. Given the CLA’s existing fleet of harvesters, an alternative method to herbicide treatment is available.
 
2. Affected property owners were not appropriately notified. The notifications mailing list is incomplete, in that not all lakefront property owners situated within the herbicide quarantine area were sent a notification in advance of the 2018 herbicide use, nor were notifications sent to other lake-use-rights property owners who are not immediate lakefront owners. The notification process for this year is thus flawed again and needs to be corrected by the applicants.
 
3. Failure to comply with county plans. Again this year, the proposed treatments fail to comply with the Chautauqua County 2017 Macrophyte Management Strategy guidance document in regard to (a) treatment locations; (b) treatment timing; (c) use of specifically not-recommended 2,4-D. Although some variance from the guidance document is tolerable, the variances are so egregious that issuance of the permits as requested is inappropriate.
 
4. Permit application defies DEC regulations. Regarding the utilization of 2,4-D, the DEC’s regulations limit such aquatic use to emergent plants, yet the 2019 herbicide-use permit applications propose use on submerged vegetation. Taking this into consideration, along with the county’s Macrophyte Management Strategy recommendations, the issuance of permits to utilize Navigate in Chautauqua Lake should be denied.
 
5. Proper testing was not performed in 2018. DEC policy requires use of Environmental Laboratory Approval Program-certified labs for analyzing water samples. ELAP was not followed last year and the 2019 applications do not state that ELAP will be utilized, and therefore the applications should be deemed incomplete. Region 9 must follow departmental rules. The necessary impact conclusions and quarantine-lifting decisions that are part of herbicide application cannot legitimately be made per department policy when non-certified labs are utilized.
 
6. “Need” for herbicide use based on flawed surveys. The applicants’ treatment-area decisions were apparently made based upon “rake-toss surveys” of the lake. Ample input was provided in 2018 as to the inappropriateness of the applicants’ rake-toss method and the flaws associated with it. Only the commonly accepted Cornell University Modified Army Corps Rake Toss Method data should be allowed for herbicide-based decision making. The applications should thus be deemed incomplete and the applicants should be required to submit other rationale as to how treatment areas were/are determined.
 
7. Conflict of interest on who applies the herbicide. Having an applicator that profits from the sale of the herbicides decide what quantity of chemicals are to be applied is a clear conflict of interest. This applicator, who profits from supplying and applying the chemicals, also determines quality-control parameters, then profits from the quality-control implementation. The applicator also profits from a favorable quality-assurance outcome, which it alone determines. These are all untenable factors and constitute conflict of interest. Permit conditions need to require that an independent third-party entity be retained by the applicants to perform QA/QC.
 
8. Bottom cover should be determined by third-party divers, not guesswork. The applications vary from standard policy without justification. We request that any permits continue to follow standard, proven-to-be-appropriate policy: Treatment only to occur within 200 feet from shore or out to 6 feet deep, whichever comes first, unless performed in a specific navigation channel; notification of all lake property owners and at all launch ramps along with required extensive public media announcements; and, treatment to only occur where 50 percent of bottom cover of target species exists. In this case, due to last year’s shortcomings, this should mean cover would be determined by third-party underwater divers or certified rake toss, as opposed to sight guessing that occurred in 2018.
 
9. Coverage area could reach 2,400 acres, without third-party, scientific evaluation of need or efficacy. Specific impact of the simultaneous introduction of Aquathol K and Navigate upon the ecology in Chautauqua Lake needs to be evaluated through a bona fide study, before introduction of the chemicals on the proposed scale occurs. The proposal to cover 1,200+ acres with both products equates to 2,400+ herbicide acres of treatment. Chautauqua Lake enjoys a diverse ecology, including 24 plant species. These benefit water clarity and absorb nutrients in support of the U.S. Clean Water Act’s Total Maximum Daily Load goals, while they also likely mitigate harmful algal blooms. The plants support a world-renown fishery, which the DEC lists as the No. 1 New York State Inland Fishing Lake and No. 4 overall Fishing Waterbody statewide. Therefore, care must be taken to safeguard these crucial assets. Further dual herbicide treatment must not be permitted until local impacts are better known.
 
10. Lake current patterns – which could disperse the chemicals over a much wider area – are unknown. Chautauqua Lake has no immediate water-flow pattern data. Given the observed 2018 drift impact, specific chemical drift studies need to be undertaken throughout Chautauqua Lake before any permit for herbicide treatment is issued. After a 2018 herbicide application, the applicants’ own test results documented the presence of *triclopyr miles downstream in the Conewango River in the Town of Carroll.
 
The letter, dated Feb. 27, is to Michael Nierenberg at the Bureau of Pest Management NYSDEC Region 9 in Buffalo. It follows another letter from the CLA to the DEC dated Feb. 15. That letter, to Region 9 Director Abby Snyder, asked the DEC to delay any decision on permitting use of herbicides in Lake Chautauqua until a Chautauqua County process to reach a consensus on the issue is reached.
 
“For the above reasons, we object to the department proceeding with the issuance of the requested herbicide application permits,” Stage concludes.