Lake Facts


  • Formed during a glacial retreat at the end of the Ice Age.
  • During the retreat, the glacier first paused at Jamestown and deposited a mound of soil.  The underlying solid rock formed a natural dam barrier that established the southern end of the lake.
  • Overflowing lake waters formed the Chadakoin River outlet which remains shallow due to its inability to cut through the bedrock.
  • The natural dam prohibits  lake managers from being able to manually lower the lake to levels that would be below the top of the natural dam.
  • The Warner Dam was installed in the Chadakoin River at Jamestown.  The dam is able to affect the lake level for levels that exist above the natural dam’s top elevation.
  • The glacier paused twice more on its retreat northward with the next pause occurring at Bemus Point where another soil deposit occurred.  The third pause occurred at Mayville.  Several ridges of soil deposits were created there before the glacier resumed it retreat northward.  The Mayville ridges caused rain water falling there to  subsequently flow in one of two directions: North to Lake Erie which is a part of the Great Lakes Basin that flows eventually into the Atlantic Ocean or South to Chautauqua Lake whose waters eventually flow to the Gulf of Mexico via the Chadakoin, Conewango, Allegany, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
  • The three glacial pauses resulted in Chautauqua Lake being created in the form of two basins, each initially having some differing properties due to the characteristics of the two glacial retreats.
  • During the retreat, the glacier first paused at Jamestown and deposited a mound of soil.  The underlying solid rock formed a natural dam barrier that established the southern end of the lake.


  • Glacial retreat has been estimated to have occurred 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
  • Permanent modern times settlement is attributed to have begun in 1811 when James Prendergast founded an English settlement in Jamestown were he built a dam across the Chadakoin River which was followed by a grist mill and several sawmills.
  • Lumbering was the first major industry.  Soft woods (hemlock, white pine, balsam, spruce) were cut into lumber and shipped downstream.  Hard woods (maple, oak, birch, ash, hickory, chestnut, cherry) were burned to produce ash which was then leached by water to produce potash and pearl ash.  Pearl ash was shipped to London via Montreal or by wagon to New York.
  • Deforestation resulted in land being made available for farming.  Hay and grain produced feed for dairy and beef cattle.  Dairy milk was utilized to produce butter and cheese.  Beef steers became prized for consumption in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.  These developments set about the significant changes to the watershed’s ecology which resulted in a nutrient rich lake.
  • During the last 100 years the lake became a significant recreational area.


  • Both basins comprise areas of approximately 102 miles each.
  • The basins are served by an approximately 1802 mile watershed.
  • Based on a 1993/1994 Mean Data Analysis, the volume of the South Basin was estimated to be 3,071,970,000 ft3 exhibiting a hydraulic retention of 102 days while the North Basin was estimated to have a volume of 7,874,130,000 ft3 and a hydraulic retention of 514 days.


  • Sources of water inflow to the lake are generally considered to be stream flow, land runoff, rain & snowfall and ground water
  • Runoff and stream flow have been estimated to provide approximately 78% of the lake’s annual source water with precipitation estimated to provide another 17%.
  • Stream input is considered to be delivered by 11 streams:  Ball Creek, Bemus Creek, Big Inlet, Dewittville Creek, Dutch Hollow Creek, Goose Creek, Lighthouse Creek, Little Inlet, Maple Springs Creek, Mud Creek and Prendergast Creek.


  • The North Basin is considered to be Mesotrophic in terms of water clarity and Eutrophic in terms of Chlorophyll a and Total Phosphorus.
  • The South Basin is considered to be Eutrophic in terms of water clarity, Chlorophyll a and Total Phosphorus.
  • North Basin lake productivity (water clarity, higher nutrient and algae levels) tends to increase from June through September while the South Basin productivity tends to increase from June through August.
  • Generally the South Basin tends to be more productive than the North Basin although both basins exhibit highly productive characteristics.
  • The lake’s level of productivity suggests that the lake is very susceptible to small changes in Total Phosphorus loading.


  • 52 different species of underwater plants have been inventoried as being present at times in Chautauqua Lake since 1937.
  • 33 plant species were observed to be present in Chautauqua Lake in 2021 as compared to 24 in 2015 and 29 in 1937.
  • Only 4 species of the 33 observed in 2021 were categorized as non-native species


  • 81 species of fish have been catalogued in Chautauqua Lake since 1902
  • Surveys ranging from years 1960 through 2000 catalogued 45 species of fish in Chautauqua Lake
  • The first Musky Hatchery on Chautauqua Lake was established in Greenhurst in 1888. It was followed by hatcheries established in Lakeland (Stow) in 1899; Stoney Point (Bemus Bay) and Bemus Point in 1893; Bemus Point in 1904; and Prendergast Point in 1950.  Only Prendergast Point remains active today.
  • Recently annually reared musky fingerlings 8″ long have been released into several waterbodies. The hatchery’s goal is to release 20,000 fingerlings into Chautauqua Lake annually.
  • The largest fish taken from Chautauqua Lake occurred in 1872. The fish weighed 126 pounds and measured 6’2″ long.[1]
  • 16 fish species have been deliberately introduced into Chautauqua lake since the introduction of Salmon Trout (Brook Trout) and Brown Bullhead in 1872. The introductions have included: Carp (1886), Pike Perch (Walleye) (1903), Calico (1915), Golden Shiner (1933), Gizzard Shad (1986), White Perch (1987) and Paddlefish (2008).


  • Warner Dam is owned by New York State and located on the Chadakoin River in the City of Jamestown, New York, approximately 3.5 miles from the outlet of Chautauqua Lake.
  • The operation of the Warner Dam is guided by an agreement formed between the City of Jamestown, Chautauqua County and New York State.
  • Most publications list the lake’s elevation as 1308 feet above mean sea level (msl).
  • Dam operational guidelines are that the dam should be operated during the recreational season, May through October, to achieve an optimum elevation of 1308.2 msl and not to exceed a minimum msl of 1307.  During the winter and spring the dam should be operated to achieve a msl of 1307.
  • The plan also recommended that any new living, storage space and life support systems construction be built above a msl of 1312.5 as measured during calm water or at windy locations above 1313.5 msl.