Where Do the Weeds Go?

What Happens To The Weeds After They Are Pulled Out Of The Lake?

Lakewood, NY — We have all seen the harvesters and barge crews combing Chautauqua Lake during the summer months. These vessels and hard-working crews have become a fixture, traveling north and south, east and west as residents and visitors enjoy all the Lake has to offer. 

Although the Chautauqua Lake Association is a year-round operation, they are most known for their lake maintenance program that runs June through September. A core group of retirees, college and high school students make up the crews that work tirelessly to keep Chautauqua Lake clean and safe for all to enjoy.

This year CLA crews are working in a circular route around the lake to ensure that every community receives service. This pre-determined schedule is published at the beginning of each week on the CLA website, thus providing lake residents with an anticipated date for service in any given area. 

The Peterbuilt is loaded with harvested weeds at the shop in Lakewood.

Once the barges and harvesters are filled with vegetation, they transport them to one of three CLA locations around the Lake — Mayville Lakeside Park, Long Point State Park and Lakewood, where they are then loaded onto a truck and hauled away.

But Where Do The Weeds Go?

Once the harvested weeds are loaded into the truck, they are transported to a dump site. One such destination is a farm in Ashville, owned by Robert Yates, Town of North Harmony supervisor. A long time ago, Yates recognized the value of the nitrogen in the weeds, and started to develop a way to utilize this resource as compost for his farm.

CLA truck dumps a heavy load of weeds.

“I basically cook them,” Yates said. “I mix them with leaves and wood waste product. It’s a recipe you have to make and you have to maintain. When it’s all mixed in, I get the process of giving the good aerobic bacteria a place to work and live. And that’s what makes the compost.”

Leaves and wood waste are mixed in with the lake weeds.
A loader is used to turn the windrows.

Once the material is mixed and cooking, Yates strives to maintain an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Using a loader to turn the windrows that expose all of the material to that set temperature, this process is maintained for up to one week. If maintained properly, this kills off the weed seeds and keeps the good bacteria. 

“When my compost is finished, it’s a living soil,” Yates said. “When it comes to lake weeds, it takes a lot of work and a lot of common sense. You have to do it when it’s ready. It’s farming. It’s agriculture. So, when the weeds come in you have to take care of them. If you don’t, it becomes a problem.”

Yates has worked with the CLA for decades and he looks at the service he provides, not as a means to obtain wealth, but as a responsibility to the environment. 

“I’m responsible for the CLA as the CLA is responsible for the lake,” Yates said. “I enjoy doing it. It’s not only a service to the CLA and for lakefront owners, it’s also a service to the county landfill because I keep a lot of the green waste from getting deposited into the landfill.” 

On any given day throughout the course of the summer season, thousands of pounds of weeds are harvested from the water surface, moved onto an aquatic harvester or barge, loaded into a dump truck, and delivered up the road to Yates’ compost facility in Ashville. 

To date, CLA crews have harvested and hauled over 5,200 tons of aquatic vegetation from Chautauqua Lake.