On the morning of July 13, the Candlewood Lake Authority (CLA) held their annual State of the Lake meeting. To an audience of lake and other residents, and town and state officials, the group’s leaders gave a thorough update on all key matters regarding Candlewood Lake.
Neil Stalter, Director of Ecology and Environmental Education at CLA, said that, “I feel, in my professional opinion, that Candlewood is a very healthy lake.” However, he followed with, “It is our job to sustain that. Obviously, Candlewood has its share of problems with milfoil and phosphorous runoff, but we are actively fighting.”
Stalter and the CLA’s Executive Director, Mark Howarth, walked the audience through the issues facing Candlewood Lake, and encouraged audience members to ask questions or comments throughout the presentation.
The issue of milfoil–the invasive plants that took hold in Candlewood several years ago–and the introduction of grass carp to address the aggressive plants was discussed at length. The overall message was that the carp are having a beneficial effect, evident by the reduced amount of milfoil. Howarth pointed to the annual Nuisance Plant Monitoring Report as the primary source of data on the issue. Reports shows that the grass carp, who eat from the top down, are having an effect in that there were a lot less patches of milfoil, with characteristic red stems, breaking the surface.
Over four thousand grass carp were introduced into Candlewood Lake since 2015 in two batches, though no fish were added in the last couple of years. “We hit that target number with the second addition” of the fish, Howarth said. However, this is the first summer in which there was a deep drawdown of the lake and no additional fish introduced, so the CLA will be watching what happens this year very closely.
Several lake residents said that they are seeing a much better milfoil scenario on their bits of shoreline and suspect that the deep drawdown of the lake was a factor. Lake drawdowns can be an effective tool for managing aquatic weed problems, but Stalter cautioned audience members who questioned why deeper drawdowns aren’t performed more frequently then every handful of years. “There are always pluses or minuses,” he said. “It’s a balance, it is always a balance.”
The aforementioned Nuisance Plant Monitoring Report is created every year in an extensive multi-week analysis of the lake. In a controversial move, FirstLight Power Resource–who own the license on Candlewood Lake until 2044–chose a new company to complete the report without consulting with the CLA. For the first three years the report was conducted by the The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CT Ag), while this year it will be completed by Northeast Aquatic Research (NEAR). CLA Chair, Phyllis Shaer, explained that the group is contesting the switch, citing the different methodologies that are used to assess the plants in the lake. She emphasized that the CLA would prefer to go back to having CT Ag complete the survey as, “We would like the continuity in methodology.”
Local activist Carolyn Rowan, a founding member of Candlewood Voices, the group that promotes natural means of treating the lake’s issues, said that she and others fear that FirstLight’s segue to using a different company for the analysis is due to NEAR’s open stance on chemical usage to treat invasive plants and their questioning the effectiveness of water drawdowns.
Stalter said that CLA is frequently analyzing the plants by the boat launches to get snapshots of native and invasive plant presence. “The ecology of the lake relies on a diverse collection of plants,” he said. Though he fears the introduction of several nuisance plants that other freshwater bodies are facing such as hydrilla, water chestnut, and curly leaf pondweed.
A primary way that invasive species spread among freshwater bodies is through boating. Fishing boats, kayaks, canoes, and other vessels easily transfer from one lake or river to that next and the required thorough washing between transfers is impossible to regulate. Signs are posted to remind visitors to wash boats, but it is an honor system.
Brookfield has attempted to set up a boat washing station for years, but the problem is that they don’t have a place to station it. Howarth explained that they hope to have a pilot wash station set up at the Squantz Cove parking area, but he wonders how it will go. “This is a giant industrial power washer” he said, “not your standard home unit.” In the end, everyone who spoke up agreed that facilitated boat washing would greatly help the situation, but logistics and funding are huge hurdles.
State Representative Ken Gucker stood up to say that the Invasive Species Stamp Bill was just signed in Hartford last week. The bill will require a $5 in state, and $25 out of state, clean boat registration fee, the funds for which will be used to fight invasive species in a variety of ways, from public education to boat washing stations. The fees will begin next year.
One of the CLA’s primary initiatives each year is to monitor water quality. From May to October, the group tests phosphorous levels–the factor that they deem is most important to Candlewood’s health at this point–nitrogen levels, water clarity, and more. Stalter explained that Candlewood “is in a mesotropic state” with a balanced ecosystem of algae and plants, with moderate levels of nutrients, which is where the CLA would like it to stay.
The CLA is creating a lake health management plan, which is targeted for completion by late 2020, which will include all of the key areas that need to be addressed and best practices for addressing them. Chief among the issues will not only be the milfoil, but also the cyanobacteria, which lead to blue-green algae blooms, and zebra mussels.
Howarth point out that blue-green algae blooms are a “global challenge for fresh water bodies right now.” The scientific community is working hard to identify ways to mitigate the blooms that have been steadily increasing worldwide. Locally, throughout the high lake usage seasons, there are weekly tests overseen by Western Connecticut State University’s Biology professor, Edwin Wong. Wong leads a team of students each week to assess the water safety. They collect data every Wednesday from several locations around Candlewood Lake, test the samples on Thursday, and have results ready for the public by Friday morning, which are published on CLAs website, Candlewoodlakeauthority.org.
Wong noted that, though some beaches have closed this year due to visual inspection of blue-green algae, none have hit the EPA-designated threshold for beach closure. He pointed out, however, that August is typically the month that has seen higher levels.
For residents who expressed concern that their swimming area may have blue-green algae and they wouldn’t know it, Howarth said “If you see the spilled green paint look on the lake, obviously don’t go in there and don’t let your pets go in there.” Spilled green paint floating on the surface of the lake is the best descriptor for visually identifying a blue-green algae bloom.
Wong said of the cyanobacteria that produce the blue-green algae, “It is a matter of control rather than elimination.” The CLA has created a homeowner’s guide, which is available digitally on their website, to help spread the message on how everyone can do their part to control cyanobacteria. From fertilizer and other chemical use leading to phosphorous runoff to septic system maintenance and e. coli ramifications, the guide strives to educate the public to make wise ecological choices to help the lake. CLA delegate Jeff Main is also leading an initiative to encourage lake residents to plant environmentally-conscious buffer gardens.
In a bright spot of news, Stalter noted that Candlewood’s water clarity last year, which is tested with Secchi Disks, was at one of the highest levels in the last 20 years. They are hoping to sustain this, however, Stalter pointed out that high water clarity has also been linked to increased levels of zebra mussels. They will continue to closely monitor zebra mussel presence and larvae.
Howarth explained that there are several new public outreach initiatives taking place on the water this year. In an effort to increase safety for kayaks and canoes, marine patrol officers are passing out small whistles that are intended to clip to PFDs. They are also handing out new micro-fiber towels on stops. The towels include a map of the lake and its rules regarding wakes, noise, and invasive species. The towels and whistles also Include all emergency numbers.
Though several residents in attendance complained of higher noise levels and wake speeds on the lake, marine police say that overall complaints and infractions are actually lower this year. Marine patrols are maintaining a noise log on their patrol loops. They use the log to crosscheck with the complaints. They encouraged concerned residents to call the dispatch number when issues arise, 860-424-3333. This number can be used for minor issues or emergencies.
The Candlewood Lake Authority meets monthly and encouraged members of the public to attend. Meeting dates, locations, and times can be found on their website.
By Sarah Opdahl