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Waramaug Dam Evaluation Begins

July 14, 2016 — Lake Waramaug's current drought-reduced water level has had one positive effect: allowing engineers to begin survey work on the dam at the New Preston end of the lake which releases water into the East Aspetuck River. Necessary repairs and improvements to the dam have been in discussion for some time. It is estimated that all permits, drawings and specifications will be completed this fall so that bidding on the actual construction can be done. That work is expected to begin in the spring or summer of 2017.

The Lake Waramaug Dam, owned by the Town of Washington, uses a pipe and gate system to control water flow and the lake's water level. Its aging technology has made it difficult to execute those adjustments. Although Connecticut keeps records of over 4,000 dams statewide, responsibility for inspection and repair has been shifted to the owners, as detailed in a new Dam Safety Regulation that took effect in February.

Although safety issues such as flood control, fire protection and safe boating are the primary considerations for dam maintenance, management of the water level is also a vital tool for water quality control. Low levels create a favorable condition for the growth of invasive weeds and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), prevent the emigration from the lake of the harmful alewife population and inhibit the natural surface skimming of dead and dying organic material. Consequently, the Task Force has been active in encouraging the dam improvement project.

The Town of Washington has budgeted $50,000 for the engineering phase of the project and another $50,000 for construction.

Note: An interesting history of the Lake Waramaug Dam appears in the Lake Waramaug Association's May 2016 newsletter. "Waramaug's Unique Outlet - An Historical Perspective on Our Dam."

Survey Reveals Curly-leaf Resurgence

2016 Survey Map: Red dots show Curly-leaf Pondweed sites.
Blue line is the survey track.
June 28, 2016 — The Lake Waramaug Task Force's annual shoreline survey to evaluate the presence of invasive plants has revealed an alarming increase in the number, size and density of sites with Curly-leaf Pondweed.

The survey, conducted in late May and early June by Northeast Aquatic Research, discovered 104 sites with the non-native plant, more than double the number from the 2015 study. Of these, 32 contained only a single plant and 17 had five or fewer. However, 19 contained moderate plant growth defined as patches up to 50 square feet in area, and 18 sites had severe infestation with dense mats of up to 9,000 square feet.

Curly-leaf Pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) is an aquatic plant native to Eurasia that is considered an invasive in North America. It can spread rapidly; replacing native vegetation, clogging waterways and limiting recreational use. Ten years ago, CLP was the first invasive plant to be discovered in Lake Waramaug.

During this decade, the Task Force has been combating CLP though the use of hand-pulling by divers whose efforts are aided by the use of suction-harvesting equipment. However, the LWTF's plant scientist has identified 7 sites where CLP has been especially resistant and he has concluded that "hand removal in these areas is not working," raising questions concerning the efficacy of using these techniques alone.

Consequently, the Task Force is beginning to study the feasibility of alternative methods that have had long term success in other lakes, including testing the limited and targeted application of chemicals on large, dense patches of CLP. In addition, LWTF is considering additional surveys to monitor the threat more closely.

Alternative methods of controlling CLP will be thoroughly studied and the lake community will be informed of these findings.

The 2016 shoreline survey did provide some positive news: no other invasive plants, such as water chestnut and water clover, were discovered.

Seaplane Landing Ordinance Passes

June 18, 2016 — In a public meeting held on June 17, the town of Kent became the third of the three Lake Waramaug towns to vote in favor of an ordinance prohibiting the landing of seaplanes on the lake. Washington and Warren had approved the ordinance on May 19.

The ordinance provides for a $250 fine for any landing on or takeoff from the lake. It will take effect fifteen days after proper public notification according to Connecticut General Statutes. The first selectmen of the three towns are directed to inform the FAA and all appropriate pilots' associations of the ordinance.

The Lake Waramaug Task Force, along with other environmental organizations, strongly supported the ordinance due to the threat that seaplanes could introduce destructive invasive species into the lake waters. The ordinance includes the following clause addressing the environmental concern: "Cognizant of the unavoidable danger of contamination of the Lake by aircraft from other water bodies which would compromise the many year undertaking to preserve the quality of the water of Lake Waramaug from invasive species and other pollutants...."

See the full ordinance.

Zoo-P Farm Up and Running


June 5, 2016 — The Lake Waramaug Task Force's cutting-edge project to cultivate Zooplankton in the former aeration facility on Arrow Point is now operational. Modifications to the basins have been made and the microscopic organisms have been introduced. The initiative has been funded in part by start-up grants from the Ellen Knowles Harcourt Foundation (see below) and the Marion Wm. and Alice Edwards Fund, a fund of the Community Foundation of Northwest Connecticut. Additional funding was obtained through participation in the Give Local campaign in May.

Zooplankton are microscopic-sized aquatic animals that have been shown to be important in controlling algae populations in lakes. Although natural to Lake Waramaug, the zooplankton population was significantly diminished by the introduction of the alewife, a non-native fish, to the waters in the 1960s. The alewife feeds on zooplankton, and the upsetting of the natural ecological balance resulted in larger and more frequent algae blooms in the 1980s.

Photo, right: LWTF's chief limnologist Dr. Robert Kortmann pouring a seed batch of zooplankton into the newly modified "Zoo-P Farm" facility on Arrow Point. (Photo by Dan Sherr)

Zooplankton Project Awarded Harcourt Foundation Grant

Robert Nicholas (left), president of the Harcourt Foundation, presents the grant check to LWTF Chair Molly Hart & Exec.Director Tom McGowan.
January 26, 2016 — A cutting-edge LWTF plan to stimulate the growth of Zooplankton in Lake Waramaug has been awarded a $7,500 grant by the Ellen Knowles Harcourt Foundation based in New Milford, CT. The experimental project, which could result in significant benefits to water quality and clarity for lakes everywhere, was brought to the Task Force by its chief limnologist, Dr. Robert Kortmann. The idea emerged from discussions that evolved after the Task Force's land-based Hypolymnetic Withdrawal System on Arrow Point was retired in May 2015 in favor of two new in-lake Layer Aeration systems. The old structure consisted of a large concrete basin with four chambers that aerated water before returning it to the lake. Dr. Kortmann determined that the facility provided a unique opportunity to experiment with the cultivation of zooplankton, tiny organisms that feed on algae and are therefore beneficial to water quality.

(Another LWTF initiative, the stocking of the lake with brown trout, also benefits zooplankton by reducing the population of their predator, alewives.)

The LWTF Executive Director Tom McGowan and board member Dan Scherr produced a grant application stressing the innovative nature of the plan and the potential for broader application if successful. The Harcourt Foundation responded quickly with the grant and its president, Bob Nicholas, delivered a check personally to the LWTF Board on January 25. The grant will offset the planning and initial development costs to modify the Arrow Point basin.

LWTF Fall 2015 Newsletter

    Top: At the mouth of Sucker Brook, geese gather on the expanding delta caused by soil erosion upstream.
Above: One of the LWTF's completed soil erosion prevention projects on Sucker Brook in Warren.

Task Force Takes on Sucker Brook Erosion

The Lake Waramaug Task Force has begun an ambitious and complex project to lessen the amount of silt that washes into the lake from several erosion sites along Sucker Brook.

Sucker Brook is a scenic stream that meanders through the Warren woods and farmlands and provides Lake Waramaug with an estimated 50% of its water inflow. Depending on weather conditions, it can be characterized as a trickle or a torrent. Over the years, several sites have developed where the stream curves that have washed away much of the soil bank, undermining trees (and, in one location, State Route 45) and depositing tons of silt into the lake.

The resulting delta that has been created in the lake has a damaging effect on water quality and aquatic life since it blocks the entry of cool water into the lake and disturbs the delicate thermal stratification that keeps harmful nutrients in the lower depths. The delta is also a safety concern for boaters. It continues to grow in size and is especially prominent during low-water periods such as we are experiencing now. Attempts to remove the silt have been deemed impractical until the upstream source of the problem is addressed.

The process involves taking huge boulders, most excavated locally, and positioning them over heavy polyethylene fabric to prevent the water flow from washing away soil. With the cooperation and help of land owners along the brook, the Task Force has identified the most critical of the erosion sites and has completed the shoring up of the first two sites. Work on additional sites will continue this fall.

Task Force Executes Frost Site Conversion

Two new Layer Aeration towers after delivery to the Washington Boat Launch.

The LWTF Board of Directors viewed a presentation in December 2014 by its chief limnologist, Dr. Robert Kortmann, regarding the potential benefits of converting the land-based hypolimnetic withdrawal system on Arrow Point (also known as the "Frost Site") to an in-lake system similar to the Layer Aeration towers that currently operate in the New Preston basin of the lake. After much discussion and analysis of the costs and potential benefits, the Board voted to implement this conversion.

Two new Layer Aeration Systems were ordered and delivered on May 28, 2015. They have been hooked up to a new compressor pump and are now operational. The larger of the new Layer Aeration towers is submerged on the east side of Arrow Point and the smaller tower is located on the shallower west side of the point. Their positions are made evident by the bubbling of released air, similar to the systems at the New Preston end of the lake.

The previous Frost Site complex took water from the east side of Arrow Point and channeled it through a series of concrete baffles, removing nutrients and aerating the water before returning it on the west side of the point. The system was installed in the early 1980s and had an anticipated useful lifespan of 25 years. Although largely responsible for water quality improvements over that time, those benefits have levelled off and maintenance costs increased rapidly. In addition, Dr. Kortmann stated that the Task Force has shifted its emphasis to a more sophisticated water management strategy that requires timing and water-level adjustments beyond the capability of the Frost Site.

Proposals under consideration for the Frost Site's concrete structure include the construction of solar panels to power the entire system and/or the possibility of nurturing the growth of zooplankton for possible re-introduction to the water. Zooplankton eat algae and therefore have a positive effect on water clarity.

Above Left: LWTF Executive Director Tom McGowan (left) being briefed by limnologist Dr. Robert Kortmann in front of the larger of the two new Layer Aeration Systems. Middle: The larger Layer Aeration System at the Washington boat launch being lifted into position for towing to Arrow Point. Right: One of the new systems arriving at its new home east of Arrow Point.

Lake Waramaug Task Force Elects New Chair


Left to right: LWTF Executive Director Tom McGowan, Linda M. Frank, retiring Chair, and Molly Butler Hart, incoming Chair, celebrate the group's 40th anniversary. Photo by Lucy Mullen Ball.

Molly Butler Hart of Warren has been elected Chair of the Lake Waramaug Task Force, succeeding Linda Frank of Washington.

Under the leadership of Ms. Frank for the last five years, the Task Force has continued to improve the quality of Lake Waramaug. Water clarity is now 8 to 10 feet in depth. Phosphorous readings are 50% lower than they were 20 years ago. Harmful algae blooms are now less frequent, less intense and of shorter duration. The lake is relatively free of invasive plant species.

The Task Force continues to improve the lake. This spring it installed a new and extensive aeration system designed to aid water clarity. An erosion control program is currently being launched to reduce phosphorous leakage into the lake.

Molly Butler Hart, the new Chair, is the founding Executive Editor of Money-Media, which now operates as part of the Financial Times of London. She is also a board member of the Johns Island Community Service League.

Other Task Force board members are: Anthony Bedini, Randy Bernard, Carolyn Brau, Kristen Browne, Jay Combs, Hilary Hopkins Criollo, Kenneth Hecken, Jim Hicks, Joan Larned, David Lindley, Richard Loughney, Kirby Mullen, David Robinson, Dr. Eric Salk, Dan Scherr, Lee Vance and Thomas Yamin. Tom McGowan is the executive director.

Spring 2015 Newsletter

Fall 2014 Newsletter

2013 Annual Report: Clarifying Strategies and a Gathering Storm

The 2013 Annual Summary Report to the Task Force was prepared by the LWTF limnologist and chief scientific advisor Dr. Robert Kortmann and delivered on March 20, 2014.

The report suggests a course adjustment for LWTF priorities with respect to phosphorus and water clarity, and provides some positive feedback on relatively new in-lake strategies during spring and fall. In addition, it focuses our attention on an evolving threat which has affected other lakes in the region and has drawn increased scrutiny from the scientific community and the state: the release of toxins during the die-off stage of cyanobacteria (often called blue-green algae).

Water clarity and reduced concentrations of phosphorus have exhibited a close correlation over the years, in Lake Waramaug (see charts, right) and elsewhere. Trend lines for these measurements (Secchi disc readings and Total Surface Phosphorus) have, despite occasional anomalies, shown steady improvement and have provided the Task Force with the best testimony to the success of our work. However there has been a subtle shift in emphasis from maximizing to optimizing water clarity. It is believed that maintaining water clarity at a level of 6 to 8 feet (one-half the thickness of the epilimnion, or top warm thermal layer) is ideal for recreational lake activities and transmits some needed light to the metalimnion (mid-level) while providing a less suitable environment for algae and some non-native invasive plants.

Recent experimentation with early spring and fall activation of the in-lake layer aeration systems have shown positive results. In the spring, water circulation is used to enhance the diatom habitat. This may actually sacrifice some clarity temporarily, while delaying and reducing the growth of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) later in the season. In the fall, layer aeration is used to take iron from the hypolimnion (lower depths of the lake), which when oxidized can bind to and remove phosphorus from the upper levels.

Algae by Any Other Name
Why has blue-green algae taken on the more ominous name Cyanobacteria? It's a matter of scientific classification. Most consider "blue green algae" a misnomer, since most algae are eukaryotic (they have membrane-bound nuclei) while cyanobacteria, the organism we are dealing with in the lake, is prokaryotic (no nucleus).
Sorry you asked?
The report's cautionary note involves blue-green algae or cyanobacteria (inset, left) which has been observed to release toxins as it dies off. These toxins can cause serious illness in humans and animals, and the Connecticut DEEP and Department of Health have established guidelines for shutting down public beaches when concentrations are high. Connecticut was the last of the New England states to address this issue. Remarkably, there are no local laboratories capable of doing the required tests. Shipping samples elsewhere can be time-consuming. Hopefully, these testing problems are temporary.

The good news is that Lake Waramaug's cyanobacteria levels have been consistently well below the danger threshold, due in large part to our long-term efforts to reduce phosphorus. But this recent focus on cyanobacteria toxins requires increased vigilance.

Consider Lakefront Buffer Planting

For many years The Lake Waramaug Task Force has been concerned that more nutrients are reaching the lake from shoreline lawns. Manicured lawns are gradually replacing the native plantings along the shore that helped protect lake water quality by slowing down storm run-off and absorbing nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen. These nutrients feed and spur the excessive growth of algae and aquatic weeds.

In an effort to stem this trend and "turn back the clock", the Task Force conceived a plan to develop a model native shoreline buffer designed to protect water quality. The idea was to create an attractive shoreline of native plantings that would demonstrate how it protects the water and at the same time can be very attractive, provide low maintenance and low energy consumption compared to a suburban lawn.

The model shoreline buffer was installed at 47 West Shore Road, with the support of the property's owners and local environmental organizations. It is hoped that interested lake residents will visit the site and consider native plantings for their own shorelines.

This PDF lists the plants used on the site. Most are locally available. Please consider adopting this lakefront strategy for the long-term health of Lake Waramaug!

Past Newsletter Articles are available from the archives.

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