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Historically, Lake Waramaug was a clean, clear lake, but signs of the lake's slow decline began in the 1950's. During the mid 1960s, through the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the lake's eutrophication (the gradual dying of a lake) accelerated dramatically. Recreational activities on the lake were curtailed, real estate values were falling and the future of the lake did not look promising.
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At the low point, there were continuous algae blooms that left the lake so clouded and discolored that visibility was only 2 to 4 feet. The algae's food source was phosphorus in the lake's surface water. Uncontrolled run-off from farms, septic systems, lawns, houses and roads in the lake's watershed area produced phosphorus levels that soared to over 30 parts per million.
In response to this critical situation, the Lake Waramaug Task Force was founded in 1975 by a group of concerned lake residents. Through the dedicated efforts of volunteers, the Task Force raised substantial funds from federal, state and private sources to support cutting-edge scientific research in limnology (the study of lakes). Robert W. Kortmann, Ph.D., a noted scientist, was retained in 1980 to assist the Task Force in its efforts to develop a program to arrest Lake Waramaug's eutrophication.
As part of the program, several innovative systems were developed including the in-lake Layer Aeration systems used in the arm of the lake along route 45 and the hypolimnetic circulation system at Arrow Point. Our first Layer Aeration system, installed in 1989, was a prototype developed by Dr. Kortmann. The efficiency and benefits of the system were immediately evident, and we soon added a second system.
...several innovative systems were developed including the in-lake Layer Aeration systems and the hypolimnetic circulation system...
These systems, some of which were the first to be utilized in the United States, keep the bottom layer of cold oxygen-deficient water isolated. This helps prevent the bottom layer from mixing its phosphorus-rich content with the warmer waters above. If this mixing were to occur, it would result in continuing and increased algae blooms such as were experienced in the early 1980s.
The results of the Task Force's efforts have been spectacular, as evidenced by the lake's present state:
However, the Task Force's work is never done. Lakes are complex environmental organisms and, each year, new problems and opportunities arise. This is especially true today due to the substantially increased activity around the lake and within its watershed, and the ever-increasing threat from invasive aquatic species.
- Water clarity of 8 to 10 feet.
- Phosphorus readings at a new low.
- Algae blooms that are very limited.
- Relative freedom from invasive plant species.
The Lake's eutrophic decline has been reversed. Water clarity is 8 to 10 feet. Phosphorus readings in the lake's surface are fifty percent lower than in the 1980s, and in Sucker Brook (the lake's main source of water) the phosphorus count is at a new low. There are fewer algae blooms in the lake and it is relatively free of invasive plants.
The reason: the Lake Waramaug Task Force's comprehensive lake restoration program. Central to this program are continuous lake monitoring, frequent consultation with the best lake scientists, the development of a watershed protection program and the operation of four state-of-the-art, in-lake Layer Aeration Systems (two in the New Preston basin of the lake and two on either side of Arrow Point).
In addition to the science and technology, individuals and community groups help the Task Force achieve its goals. Presently we have excellent partnerships with the Lake Waramaug Association, which focuses on quality of life at the lake; the Lake Waramaug Authority, focusing on water safety; and the Lake Waramaug Inter-Local Commission, a three-town governmental commission. The Connecticut Federation of Lakes, the Northwest Conservation District and local land trusts and environmental groups are also important partners.
As we look to the future, the activities of the Task Force will increase in a number of critical areas. In good part, this is driven by the substantially increased activity around the lake and within its watershed and the increasing threat from invasive aquatic species. These areas are:
- Science and Systems: The Task Force must have the resources available to deal with challenges and opportunities as they arise in the field of limnology. It must continue to access the best available science and technologies to keep Lake Waramaug healthy.
- Research and Monitoring Functions: These functions will increase in the future especially as new land development takes place in the watershed area. For reasons of economy and efficiency, the Task Force should gradually assume more of the annual in-lake and stream testing as a staff function rather than using consultants as it does today.
Vigilance and prevention are keys to success.
It is vital to Lake Waramaug's continued health that the Task Force remain vigilant, prepared and on the cutting edge of the science of limnology. We invite all who love this beautiful, historic and unique resource to play an active role by contributing generously to the Task Force.
- Invasive Species Prevention Program: This program will continue to be a major part of the ongoing work of the Task Force. Many lakes are infested with invasive species and it must be assumed that the threat to Lake Waramaug will always be present. The Task Force staff must constantly inspect the lakeshore and continue to educate users of the lake to this potential catastrophe. Vigilance and prevention are keys to success. The cost to treat a lake of our size with chemicals to control milfoil for five years would be $200,000. Since there is no permanent cure for milfoil, this cost would be never-ending.
- Protection of Open Space and Land Use: The Task Force will need to take a proactive role in the protection of open space, the creation of shoreline vegetation buffers and the wise and prudent use of land on the lakefront and in the watershed. The Task Force will need staff with expertise in land use planning and land trust techniques designed to save land and maintain it as open space. This very important initiative will require close working relationships with neighboring land trusts.
Thomas A.J. McGowan, Executive Director
Molly Butler Hart, Chair
Jay D. Combs, Treasurer
Hilary Hopkins Criollo
Richard W. Loughney
David C. Robinson
Dr. Eric Salk
Lee G. Vance
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