Connecticut Post (Sunday)
The health of CT’s lakes takes center stage
Of the state’s 10 largest lakes, six are in western Connecticut. Whether man-made or natural, they’re the places where people fish, swim and boat in summer, ice-fish, skate and snowmobile in winter.
They have a lot of people using them and a lot of people living on their shores. They have lots of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into their waters, feeding a host of plants. They have a warming climate, with no one sure of what it will bring.
“So many people depend on them as a resource,’’ said Theodora Pinou, professor of biologic and environmental science at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.
To try and teach people about these complexities, Western has sponsored an annual symposium on lakes and their health for the past two years.
The series’ third session began last week with talks about an algae bloom at a New Jersey lake and of how lake communities in Brookfield may be contributing to similar blooms at Candlewood Lake.
The symposium will continue on Nov. 15 with a discussion of the work the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has done to study Bantam Lake in Litchfield — the state’s largest natural lake.
It will conclude on Dec. 13 with consideration of the 800-pound gorilla in the room — climate change.
All the session are online from 7 to 9 p.m. To participate, register at https://westconn.tfa forms.net/217
The symposiums serve a host of purposes, including creating a place where lay persons and limnologists alike can listen and learn about lakes. There were more than 130 participants listening in and asking questions at last week’s first session.
Larry Marsicano of Aquatic Ecosystem Research — who has spent almost his entire career studying Candlewood Lake — said that the Connecticut Federation of Lakes is now co-sponsoring the symposium.
“The response has been great,” he said.
It’s also part of the university’s efforts to be part of the research at the area’s inland waterways. Students in Western’s Master of Science program in Integrative Biological Diversity participated in last week’s symposium.
“We want to be at the center of this conversation,” Pinou said.
At last week’s session, Fred Lubnow, director of aquatic programs at Princeton Hydro spoke about his company’s work at Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest natural lake.
The lake, like many of those in Connecticut, has been experiencing summer algae blooms and the threat of the cyanotoxins they can release.
But in 2019, Lake Hopatcong underwent a massive bloom that lasted nearly all summer. Recreation shut down and lakeside businesses took a serious hit.
Lubnow said a variety of things caused the bloom, including higher-than-average temperatures mixed with regular rainfall that washed pollutants into the lake; still water; and higher-thannormal phosphorus levels. Phosphorus, a chemical found in a variety of fertilizers and lawn treatments, also fertilizes algae blooms.
He also spoke of a variety of treatments his company used to control the algae. One — preached at Candlewood Lake — is simply to create a buffer zone of thick vegetation between lawns and lake to catch and filter pollutants before that reach the water.
“I always say, let it grow as high as your knee,” Lubnow said.
At Candlewood Lake, there’s another problem — a lot of people living at the lake’s edge with septic systems in a mix of repair and disrepair.
Nelson Malwitz, chairman of the Brookfield Water Pollution Control Authority and Pio Lombardo, of Lombardo Associates, an engineering firm, talked about a study completed in 2020 of homes in two lake communities — Candlewood Shores and Arrowhead Point — and other lakeside homes nearby the communities.
It found that 28 percent of the lots — approved decades ago — are now too small for codecompliant septic systems, with half being 50 years old.
As a result, those systems are leaching phosphorus into Candlewood Lake, and have been doing so for 70 years – again, feeding algae blooms.
At Bantam Lake — the subject of the November symposium — Tracy Iott, supervising environmental analyst with the DEEP’s Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse, said the state has been working with Bantam Lake communities to study how phosphorus gets into the lake and how it might be reduced in the future.
Iott said climate change could upset a lot of projections. But, she said, the DEEP is choosing now to study the data it has gathered about Bantam Lake and try to improve things using it.
“Let’s take that bit of the apple first,” she said.
“So many people depend on them as a resource.’’
Theodora Pinou, professor of biologic and environmental science at Western Connecticut State University