August 28, 2014

The Latest Buzz about Mosquitoes

mosquito_574The mosquito season will shortly be upon us and many of us, in an effort to keep the pesky insects at a distance, will get out last year’s spray cans and bottles of DEET™ and OFF! or OFF! Backwoods (SC Johnson products.)  We may get our sprayers ready and check the hardware stores that feature the latest backyard propane mosquito traps and clip-on repellents.

The danger to public health takes the form of two diseases transmitted to humans by the bite of the mosquito, West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.  By the way, aerial sprays have been proven to be the least effective approach to mosquito control.  Some studies cited in the publication Beyond Pesticides indicate that DEET rapidly loses its effect over time and that it takes only one generation of mosquitoes to become insensitive to the chemicals in DEET because the insects mutate so rapidly.

Studies also indicate that DEET, especially in higher percentages, can cause severe skin reactions and can interfere with the central nervous system enzyme identified as AChE.  Read the precautionary statements on a bottle of OFF!Backwoods! to get an idea of the potential risks.  Studies indicate that under certain conditions using DEET in combination with permethrin has resulted in motor defects and memory dysfunction in humans.

In general, spraying the skin with or inhaling spray from products employing permethrin, resmethrin (Scourge), malathion (Fifanon), sumithrin (Anvil), organophosphate or piperong butoxide (PBO) should be avoided.  They can be highly toxic to certain humans, especially children and pregnant women.

So if I do decide to put my can of DEET aside and avoid products with the potentially harmful chemicals listed above, what can I do to avoid the risk of being bitten by a mosquito carrying a deadly virus?

First, make sure that you eliminate all stagnant water in your immediate area because mosquitoes lay their eggs in places like leaf-clogged gutters, discarded tires, bird baths, and rain barrels that are neither covered nor emptied every couple of days.  After only four days, mosquito eggs in stagnant water can mature into adults looking for blood.

One of the products that you can safely use in pools of water goes by the name Bt (bacillus thuringiensis israelensis). Follow the directions on the product called Mosquito Dunks which may be effective for up to 30 days.

Second, prepare before going out in the evening when mosquitoes are most active.  Cover exposed skin and apply repellents that do not include the chemicals listed above.  Instead, use products with any of the following: oil of lemon eucalyptus or eucalyptus with aloe vera, garlic oil (doesn’t smell), cedar oil, pine oil, pepper extract (picaridin), herbal extracts, and citronella.

Also available is a nontoxic mosquito repellent patch that uses a vitamin (Thiamin B1) as its deterrent. It can be used on children as young as one year old and reputedly remains effective for 36 hours.

Third, light up the good old reliable citronella candles if you want to keep mosquitoes away from your late night dinner on the patio.

So, avoid the harmful chemicals and be ready for a busy summer, one that is free from the buzz and bite of those pesky and sometimes deadly mosquitoes!

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Conservation Corner: A Killer Lawn

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It’s that time of year again.  The lawn looks dead after all you did to make it lush and verdant last year, the envy of the neighborhood.  You mowed it 33 times, spent over $300 on fertilizer and pesticides, another $55 for fuel for the brand new sit-down mower you purchased, and spent $24 on Rhode Island grass seed and fertilizer to repair the bare spots. And now it looks dead …

Biologically, it is dead.  The chemicals in those bags you bought last year contained chemical fertilizer with a heavy dose of nitrate plus weed killer, wide spectrum insect killer, clover killer, nematode killer, grub killer, various seed killers, etc. The soil was made barren and depends on those bags you buy to keep it barren and deadly to those natural “enemies” of your perfect lawn.  The chemicals may also make your children and pets sick, as well the birds and animals that come in direct contact with that lawn.

High nitrate levels in the soil in the beach communities is the reason the DEEP is issuing pollution abatement orders and ordering sewers, yet that bag of fertilizer you spread on your lawn four or more times last season probably contained 30% or more of nitrates.  Actually, only about five percent of that nitrate can be used by the grass.  The rest seeps into the ground (eventually into your well) or is washed away into the nearest water body, where it does some more killing of a wide range of aquatic life.

The Old Lyme Conservation Commission opposes the use of pesticides in general as a hazard to the health of the community, especially our children.  We oppose the use of chemical treatment of lawns specifically and recommend the organic approach instead.  Here is what we specifically recommend:

  1. Reduce the size of your lawn by planting perennial gardens and shrubs instead.
  2. Get a soil test to determine what, if any, additives your soil needs to grow grass. Email UConn for more info.
  3. Buy the perennial grass seed that is best suited for each part of your property.  Add clover seed to the mix as clover provides nitrogen to the grass roots.
  4. Compost your leaves, grass clippings, etc. and use the rich soil produced as top dressing for the lawn and garden.
  5. Water deeply once a week. Install rain barrels to supply added water for the lawn.
  6. Seek professional advice from organic experts when confronted with specific insect and weed problems.
  7. Raise the cutting bar on your mower to three inches.  A one inch cut exposes the grass to drying out and dying. Leaving the grass clippings on the lawn provides most of the nitrogen the grass needs or save the bag of clippings for the compost pile.

Note:  A new state law (12-155) that prohibits the use of a fertilizer containing phosphorous near water bodies is now in effect.  A $500 fine is imposed on violators.  A pound of phosphorous fertilizer can produce 10,000 pounds of algae in water bodies like Rogers Lake.

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Op-Ed: Connecticut River System Highlights Role of People in Sustaining Nature

Dr. Frogard Ryan, State director, The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut

Dr. Frogard Ryan is State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.

A fishway around a dam on the Mattabesset River in East Berlin might not seem to have much to do with Lyme and Old Lyme.  But the fishway The Nature Conservancy is building on the property of StanChem, a polymer manufacturing company about 35 miles from my home in Old Lyme, is good news—here and there.

As the Conservancy’s state director, I have a vested interest in the project’s success.  It’s no stretch, though, to say we all have an interest in this work.

The Mattabesset River is a tributary of the Connecticut River, and the elaborate U-shaped fishway being built near the StanChem complex will help improve the health of the river Lyme and Old Lyme area residents know and love as a neighbor.

That’s just for starters, though.

As I toured the site recently with StanChem President Jack Waller and Conservancy Connecticut Director of Migratory Fish Projects Sally Harold, I was reminded of a fundamental truth:  conservation is made possible by people, and if Connecticut’s natural resources are to be sustained into the future, it will be because people make it so.

River and stream connectivity is an important environmental issue and opportunity in our state.  The vast majority of dams in Connecticut are relatively small and privately owned.  Many of them no longer serve the purposes for which they were built; some are at risk of failures that could threaten public safety.

From an environmental perspective, dam removal can open access to upstream spawning habitats for migratory fish.  It also can restore the natural, swift-moving flows that support some native species, and it can enhance water quality by improving nutrient and sediment transport.

Removal isn’t always an option, of course, and that was the case with this project, where the impoundment created by the dam provides water that would be crucial for StanChem in case of a fire.  In such circumstances, a well-thought-out fishway is a great—if not always easy— alternative.

The fishway on the Mattabesset is designed so that American shad, alewife and blueback herring will be able to use it.  Because the old dam has been a complete barrier, none of those species has been above it in maybe 100 years.  All told, about 50 miles of habitat—including tributaries to the Mattabesset—will become available to them, improving the overall health of the Connecticut River system.

An embedded tube for migrating American eels is part of the project, too, and the Connecticut Department Energy and Environmental Protection will gather information from an observation room there for its “No Fish Left Behind” reports about monitored fish runs across the state.

Equally important, though, is how this project has happened.

A $308,000 Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Ecosystem Management & Habitat Restoration grant, a $10,000 contribution from the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership through Northeast Utilities, and private donations to The Nature Conservancy are helping pay for this work.  Of course, it also couldn’t happen without StanChem’s active buy-in.

With the state and the private and nonprofit sectors involved, the cooperation that characterizes this project is a model for conservation.

Still, it wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of individuals—people who want to make a difference.  Mr. Waller, whose buoyant enthusiasm for the project is infectious, comes to mind, as does DEEP Supervising Fisheries Biologist Steve Gephard, a long-time champion of the project.

A great deal of work was done last year to improve the health of Connecticut’s rivers and streams.  In East Berlin, Farmington, Stonington and elsewhere, there were real successes with dam removal and fish passage.

With so many of Connecticut’s dams privately owned, the future of this type of work depends greatly on individuals—including, I hope, some readers here—who see and cherish the opportunity to make a difference.  There are so many dams out there where work of real ecological value could be done.  Perhaps one of them is yours.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Ryan, who is the State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, lives in Old Lyme.  The Conservancy’s Connecticut Chapter is located at 55 Church Street, Floor 3; New Haven, Conn. 06510-3029.

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Old Lyme Conservation Commission – Working For a Pesticide Free Community

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Coinciding coincidentally, with the DEEP sprayings of glyphosate on the phragmites in several locations in Old Lyme, the Old Lyme Conservation Commission’s banner (pictured above), which has been in the works for some time and its placement over Halls Road scheduled months ago, is displayed to bring awareness to reduce the use of pesticides in Old Lyme. The banner’s debut coincides with the 50th Anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which is this September.

Orion publication gave this insightful look into Rachel Carson in their September issue: “Rachel Carson, the ecologist who kicked the hornet’s nest, wrote a book that needed no subtitle. Silent Spring rocketed to the top of the bestseller list, prompted a meeting with the president’s science advisers, occasioned congressional hearings, and circled her neck with medals of honor. It also let loose swarms of invective from the pesticide industry.”

The Orion article continues, “Carson hid her battle with cancer out of fear that her enemies in industry would use her medical situation to attack her scientific objectivity and, most especially, her carefully constructed argument about the role that petrochemicals (especially pesticides) played in the story of human cancer. But behind her unflappable public composure, Carson’s private writings reveal how much physical anguish she endured: bone metastases, radiation burns, and angina.”

The Old Lyme Conservation Commission believes Old Lymers can do more to keep themselves and their neighbors safe. Effective alternatives to home lawn care pesticides exist for the do-it-yourself homeowner as well as for licensed professionals.

Homeowners are asked to give more thought prior to allowing any pesticide applications, which require the posting of a yellow pesticide flag. Everyone needs to be more mindful of the role they may unwittingly be playing in adding to the toxic substances here in town.

While the Old Lyme Conservation Commission has the assigned task to bring the town information about such environmental risks, the residents must decide whether to act on that information or disregard it. In the case of spraying phragmites with glyphosate by the DEEP, we can say with certainty that it has not worked in the past, is a waste of money, and endangers fish, amphibians, honey bees, and birds.

You may recall that the DEEP has been here before. The phragmites are only getting worse. Information on glyphosate is available on the OLCC’s page on the town website and the OLCC’s pesticides pamphlet is available at the town hall and library.

While phragmites are invasive, they do play a role according to Tim Scott, Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives. Scott has written that phragmites are “nature’s cleanup crew.” They exist where toxins exist.

The Nature Conservancy is supporting the spraying to bring back native plants and birds. It is important to note that they would like to spray Goose Island but cannot because of the many swallows presently there. Connecticut Audubon has publicly come out against the use of pesticides.

Are you a bit confused? Maybe Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies can help. Their brochure for prospective student’s states:

“The Relationship between Health and the Environment – Yale’s students studying the environment and human health learn both the scientific principles and the policy implications of how damage to the environment can adversely affect public health. Our health is affected by everyday behavior that brings us into contact with harmful environmental conditions – through the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.”

The brochure continues, “While environmental degradation has widespread consequences, some of the most important are human mortality and illness. The link between the environment and human health is one of the primary reasons the general public is interested in environmental issues and is the principal driver behind most environmental legislation in many countries around the world.”

Rachel Carson said it best in Silent Spring, “If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our “right to know,” and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.”

Our own Roger Tory Peterson, the well-known birder, fought against the use of DDT. It is a safe bet that he would not be happy to have the DEEP spraying glyphosate in prime bird habitat. For those who have water views that are now becoming obstructed by this invasive plant, you can have these phragmites cut. We might add that the chemicals from lawn care products will only add to the spread of phragmites.

So, in the words of the banner: “Don’t Use Pesticides! Keep it clean…. Because we’re all downstream.”

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Shades of Green: Lessons Learned from a Lawn

full_4536Have you noticed the little island of green that now graces the Old Lyme landscape?

The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme’s lawn looks wonderful and the accolades just keep rolling in.  Perhaps there are weightier issues on the minds of most residents, but the story of this little patch of grass underlies a larger issue that is sweeping through the town.

At the juncture of McCurdy Rd., Ferry Rd. and Lyme St., the Congregational Church is the town’s most recognizable architectural gem and serves as Old Lyme’s gateway to the historical district.  It was little wonder that church stewards approached the decision on lawn care with kid gloves.

The church’s Environmental Committee began to explore the idea of organic treatment for the church property.  Because of its prominent geographic location, the committee realized that the church had the opportunity to embrace responsible environmental stewardship and serve as a demonstration plot for integrated organic lawn care.

It was not until the “Church Corner” project was completed that designer and church member Sally McCracken (principle of the firm Sarah Wood McCracken, Landscape Architect) was able to get the ball rolling.

Brand new granite curbs and walks characterized the church corner’s reconstruction, but there was that church lawn … in a condition that could best be described as “spotty.”  In consideration of the church’s desire to move to organic care, Sally hired Roger McNelly of East Haddam Horticultural Services LLC.  For the past year, Roger has gently guided the lawn’s revitalization.

The organic approach undertaken at the church involved specific tailoring based on soil tests performed on the property.  The organic care program has incorporated different limes, fertilizers, gypsum, humates and compost teas.  To control grubs, an insect pathogenic nematode was introduced.  Typically, successful transition to organic care might take several years, but the results just one year into the project have already yielded exciting results.

As a member of both the church’s environmental committee and the town of Old Lyme’s Conservation Commission, I’ve come to see the church lawn project as a microcosm of an issue we are facing townwide.

In keeping with new state regulations, Lyme-Old Lyme Public Schools Facilities Director John Rhodes has guided Region 18 school fields away from the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides.  This has been no small feat considering the incorporation of the new track field and the overuse of our existing fields necessitated by the ongoing high school construction.

At the same time, the town’s Conservation Commission has worked with a town committee chaired by Phil Neaton to address the conversion of all town-owned fields from chemical applications to a sustainable “green” status.

None of these changes come easily and progress seems frustratingly slow at times.  Yet, in a small town with no municipal water system, our aquifers intimately connect us all.  The chemicals sprayed on our neighbor’s lawns find their way to our streams, our lakes, our Sound and … our water wells.

Congratulations to the First Congregational Church, Region 18, and the Town of Old Lyme for taking the initial steps toward making our town a safer and more sustainable place to raise our children.

PS: Stay tuned for the ultimate test for the church lawn … will it survive the “White Elephant Sale” this Friday and Saturday?

Environmentalist Tom Sherer of Old Lyme (left) is a man with a passion for the environment. A member of Old Lyme’s Conservation Commission, he also serves on the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme’s Environmental Committee.

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“A Chemical Reaction”

This letter was delivered by the Old Lyme Conservation Commission to the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen
 
The new state law requires that no pesticides are to be applied to school grounds at elementary and middle schools except in the case of a health emergency ( e.g. a ground hornets nest).
The District 18 Board of Education took this one step farther and will use organic treatment methods on all school grounds, including the high school. We commend this action.
These same elementary and middle school children are exposed to pesticides on the town fields, and the Conservation Commission requests that organic methods be applied there as well to comply with the spirit of the law.
The Conservation Commission is attempting to persuade Old Lyme residents to convert their lawn treatment methods to an organic approach, especially to protect our children and the groundwater. We invite you all to the showing of the film “A Chemical Reaction.” It documents the amazing impact one small town doctor had on the entire province of Quebec … and Ontario, as well where the use of lawn care pesticides is prohibited.
The film showing will be at the Lymes’ Senior Center at 7 p.m. on the 16th of November.
Sincerely,
George James, Chairman, on behalf of The Old Lyme Conservation Committee
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One View of the Issues at Rogers Lake

The Old Lyme Conservation Commission considers Rogers Lake to be Old Lyme’s single most important natural resource, and we believe that its future care and protection should be made a major part of the 2010 Old Lyme Town Plan of Conservation and Development.
Watershed

The Rogers Lake watershed of over 4800 acres or nearly one third of the land area in town collects millions of gallons of water to support both the 200 or so wells around the lake and the two main aquifers in Old Lyme: the Lieutenant River aquifer and the Blackhall River aquifer. Every household in Old Lyme depends on a well for its water whether it is a private well or a water company well. The current shortage of well water in East Lyme dramatizes the vital importance of the Rogers Lake watershed as a main source of water in Old Lyme.

Recreation

Hain’s Park is the only public fresh water swimming area in Old Lyme. It is also a launch area for canoes, rowboats, and kayaks. This area supports the exceptionally successful rowing activities that have produced national champions and that have supported adult rowing activities on the lake. The State of Connecticut has a boat launch area off Grassy Hill Road and rates Rogers Lake as a trophy trout lake with ample supplies of bass and pickerel. Ice fishing, ice skating, and ice boat sailing are popular in the winter months.

Property Value and Commercial Value
This wide range of activities has made the lake a very desirable location to own a summer cottage. Property values around the lake have increased dramatically in recent years. The Rogers Lake community has steadily increased its tax revenue contribution to the Town. The lake community has also been an essential contributor to the success of local businesses in the Laysville part of town.

Condition of the Lake

In 2002 and 2003 a scientific study of Rogers Lake was conducted at the behest of the Rogers Lake Authority. The study rated nutrient levels low except for organic nitrogen. Phosphorus was within normal levels. Ammonia was low except in the deepest water. Algae and plankton counts were rated low. In short, water quality was average to good. Mercury levels and PCB’s in fish were not part of the study.
The study did not address a number of factors that affect the futureof the lake. The four or five streams supplying water to the lake carry quantities of silt and lawn chemicals into the lake. Run-off from lakeside lawns treated with fertilizers also enters the lake. Leaves from deciduous trees fall or are blown into the lake each year adding to the vegetative matter.

Weeds flourish in the shallow central portion of the lake and become thick mats of material that cause problems for fishermen, swimmers, water skiers, sailors, and owners of motorboats. The weeds become so thick in places that for some lake residents swimming in front of their own house becomes impossible.

At the south end of the lake an extensive shallow water delta has formed where the stream enters the lake. The channel used by boaters entering the lake from the state boat launch area gradually fills in as well. In extremely dry summers a person could walk across the central portion of the lake, and large boats find their props churning up muck as they try to stay in the channel between the north and south ends of the lake.

Swans, ducks, and a sizable flock of resident geese feed on the vegetation, and their feces add additional nutrients to the water as well as create very unpleasant deposits on lawns and beaches. The resident 40 to 50 geese each defecate up to three pounds of feces each day. Over a year, this amounts to over 40,000 pounds of manure that is directly deposited either in the lake or on the shore eventually to be washed into the lake.

Mercury and PCB’s enter the lake from fallout from air pollution. Exhaust and spills from powerboats add petrochemical compounds, and sand and road salts from storm sewers are carried into the lake after every heavy rain storm.

A small number of septic systems have experienced problems over the years because they are on very small lots, and at least some of the systems were inadequate to begin with. Old Lyme requires that all septic systems be pumped, inspected, and repaired (if needed.) every five years. However, Lyme has no such program.

Over 200 wells in the vicinity of the lake depend upon Rogers Lake for hydraulic pressure to maintain the water levels in the wells. When the level of the lake is lowered beyond two feet, the shallowest of these wells go dry.

Add to this general situation the fact that the leaks in the dam are increasing so that water levels and outflow become more and more difficult to control, and it is plain that lake maintenance was and is facing serious obstacles, especially if the proposed 90 additional housing units in the Rogers Lake drainage basin currently on hold because of the economy are eventually built.

Rogers Lake Authority

The task of maintaining the water quality of Rogers Lake is assigned to the Rogers Lake Authority (RLA) with members representing both Lyme and Old Lyme on the Board. The 2002-2003 study authorized by the RLA made a series of recommendations for maintaining the lake.

Weed Killer

One suggestion was the use of chemicals to kill the vegetation. When weed killer is applied to the shallow waters, the plants die and collect on the bottom along with the yearly load of leaves and silt. Eventually, the dead vegetation becomes a new layer of muck with the weed killer residue remaining active in some cases for more than a year.

Weed killer applications may seriously impact oxygen levels in the water, and these changes may result in increases in algae. The particular weed killer under consideration was to be used three years in a row. The application process was not inexpensive.

Eventually, the weeds return because the conditions that fostered the growth do not change. The weeds may adapt to the chemical and make plants more resistant to the next round of weed killer. The lake continues to get shallower.

No one can say for sure what any particular herbicide will do to the bacteria, algae, and fungi that make up the chemical “soup” that larger organisms depend upon.

No one has scientific evidence to determine the impact of the application of a particular weed killer on the food chain on which fish and amphibians in Rogers Lake depend. No one can say for sure what the impact will be on the geese, ducks, and swans which feed on this vegetation, and no one can say for sure what the impact on humans will be upon being exposed to this particular complex combination of chemicals in the lake water.

After weighing all the issues the RLA decided to put the use of weed killer temporarily on hold. The State of Connecticut has permitted the use of weed killers, including large amounts of 2-4D, in many other lakes in the state when weed problems become intolerable, but no exhaustive scientific study of the full range of environmental impacts of the use of weed killers in those lakes is available.

Some vegetation is vital to a healthy ecosystem in the lake, and the weeds do return after multiple applications of weed killer. Indiscriminate destruction of 20 or 30 acres of vegetation could have a serious impact on the fauna and flora that currently live on that vegetation.

Blue Dye, Carp, and Beetles

A harmless blue dye that prevents light from reaching vegetation, killing the plant, is another approach. Carp have been used in some cases with varying success. A species of beetle has also been used to combat certain weeds. Each approach has certain drawbacks and limitations.

Harvesting

Using a mechanical weed-harvesting machine removes the vegetation from the lake. It is then deposited on the shore to dewater for a short period of time. Then it is hauled away to be discarded or combined with other materials to form compost. The machine does the job effectively, but the program has certain drawbacks. It is fairly expensive. $20,000. per year has been budgeted in years past.

With 50 to 70 acres of heavy weed infestation, the money doesn’t go far. And unfortunately, experts assert that raking the weeds actually spreads them to other areas where they take root and flourish. The machine does not distinguish between desirable aquatic vegetation and the prolific, undesirable weeds that choke certain parts of the lake. Motorboat propellers chop off the tops of harmful weeds and spread these pieces to other parts of the lake where they increase the infestation.

Aquatic Bird Control

Controlling the number of geese, swans, and ducks that live on Rogers Lake is an important element of the program to maintain high water quality.

Swans are prodigious eaters of aquatic vegetation as is evidenced by the piles of feces they leave behind. They tend to drive ducks and geese from their immediate territory, especially during nesting time. The lake has had up to three pairs of swans with their young at one time. Ducks usually number in the twenties around the lake in summer months. Canada geese usually number between 40 and 50, down from 200 before the Rogers Lake Authority program began.

Unfortunately, geese live for 20 or so years, and simply destroying the eggs prompts the geese to lay more eggs.

A yearly effort to shake the eggs to prevent increased numbers has met with resistance from some of the residents. The town’s hiring of a woman and her dog to frighten the geese has not been especially effective because the frightened geese fly a short distance to the pond at High Hopes during the period when the woman and her dog are active only to return later to the lake. The yearly cost of hiring the woman and her dog has been $15,000.

We now have up to 50 geese defecating on lawns and in the lake every day. Next year’s budget includes the same $15,000. The most effective approach is to addle the eggs, a project not for the faint of heart. Placing a fence at water’s edge or planting vegetative buffers along the shoreline have proven to be effective ways to discourage geese from depositing feces on lawns. They want unimpeded access to the water.

Aquatic Blankets and Hand Harvesting

Most recently, the introduction of aquatic blankets to cover areas of the lake to prevent growth of all vegetation is being tracked by RLA to determine if more widespread use of these devices would effectively reduce the weeds and be cost effective on a larger scale.

The blankets are weighted so that they rest on the bottom and prevent sunlight from reaching any plant life under the blanket. After a month or so, the plants die and the blanket is moved to a new area. The blankets themselves come in several lengths and widths and in different materials. Currently, $1000 has been budgeted for this experiment with five 30 by 18 feet blankets in use. Blankets come in sizes as large as 120 by 240 feet.

Using a team of scuba divers, other lake authorities have managed to reduce weed infestation to acceptable levels. Typically, the divers need a large scow to hold the bagged vegetation as they harvest the weeds by hand. The weed’s root structure is removed, and the harvested vegetation is then disposed of at landfills or on composting sites.

Hand harvesting has the advantage of singling out the undesirable weeds while leaving behind desirable plant vegetation, essential to a healthy lake. Costs estimates run in the range of $3500 an acre. Treatment lasts a few years when the weeds return.

Drawdown

Allowing the water level of the lake to fall in the autumn and winter months has been used in the past in an effort to expose some of the shoreline muck for removal and to winter kill some of the vegetation. This measure also has permitted residents to repair stone walls and docks. Complaints from those whose shallow wells go dry at these times have made this approach unpopular with a few residents.

The dam leaks from well below the spillway, which hinders efforts to control the lake level, and the drawdown affects only a few species of aquatic plants unless the drawdown can be greater than two feet. Drawdown requires very cold winters with snow on top of the ice to destroy the weeds. These periods of low temperatures have been missing in recent years.

Education

In the last few years there have been several efforts to inform the residents of Rogers Lake about the various impacts on the lake and what the residents can do to mitigate the most harmful practices. In 2006 the Committee for the Health of Rogers Lake, a group from the West Shores Association, conducted a survey of lake residents to determine awareness of lake conditions and general practices that impact the lake’s water quality.

As a result several people have stopped raking or blowing leaves into the lake in the fall. Some shoreline residents have stopped using harmful lawn chemicals and have adopted organic methods instead. They have discovered that geese don’t go where there is no quick and unimpeded access to the water and have built fences, established berms, or planted low vegetative buffers next to the lake. Some have bought coyote cutouts to scare the geese. Most have stopped feeding bread to the ducks and geese, having learned that this type of food is harmful to the birds.

A few lake residents have deepened their shallow wells or drilled new deeper ones. A few have removed deciduous trees from their shoreline to avoid having leaves in their swimming area every spring. Still others have upgraded their septic systems.

The educational process is made difficult by the fact that there are several beach associations around the lake. Passing information along by mail has cost money the groups don’t have. On occasion, volunteers have hand delivered messages. The West Shore Association has now managed to put together an email list so that communication with many lake residents is rapid and costs nothing.

The Rogers Lake Dam

The Rogers Lake dam is scheduled to be repaired but is not on the active list of shovel-ready projects. No discussion with the firm of Jacobson and Associates, who were assigned assessment of the repair project, has occurred since April 2006. The only money budgeted was for analysis. However, Steven Gephard, the DEP representative who deals with dams and fish ladders, has endorsed the dam repair project enthusiastically.

The repair will include a fish ladder, but the ladder need not be activated. Some residents are concerned that an influx of alewives would adversely impact the fragile balance established with the current population of two types of alewives permanently living in the lake.

The dam was damaged in the recent flood and the cost estimate of repairs has been submitted to FEMA. Until the DEP receives more FECB funding authorization, there is nothing for which the DEP can go to the bond commission and request funding.

Why Develop a Long Term Plan?

As sediments increase and the lake gets shallower, the weeds become more and more of a serious problem hampering the use of the lake by boaters, water skiers, swimmers, and fishermen. Any increase in the amount of weeds makes swimming in front of many houses around the lake unpleasant if not impossible. The attractiveness of the way of life around the lake in the summer months is suffering, and real estate values can only decline as conditions become worse and worse.

The methods used so far to counter these conditions are clearly stop-gap measures and do not address the basic fact that the central portion of Rogers Lake is too shallow and each year that section is getting shallower. To improve conditions in the lake over the long term, there are two main options as follows:

1. Lake Drawdown and the Removal of Muck by Machine

In conjunction with the reconstruction of the dam, it might be feasible to draw the lake down four feet or more followed by the removal of 20 to 40 acres of muck down to the underlying sand and gravel that forms the bottom of most of this section of the lake. The muck might become a valuable commodity for agricultural use if it can be shown to be free of harmful chemicals. Sale of the sand and gravel could help pay for the cost of the operation of the trucks and bulldozers and back hoes needed to remove this very large quantity of material.

Currently, the lake cannot be drawn down more than two feet without the reconstruction of the base of the dam. What to do with the spoils? Dewatering areas must be found. A location must be found for the removed materials – no easy task.

In that regard, both Lyme and Old Lyme landfills have to be covered by materials acceptable to the DEP. In addition, the widening of Interstate 95 might provide a location to deposit sand and gravel from the lake if the product meets state requirements.

The normal sand and gravel bottom does not readily promote the growth of vegetation and might provide a few years relatively free of weeds as well as provide a safe channel for motorboats. Silt ponds should be established at the outlets of the four or five streams that feed the lake if the yearly input of nutrients is to be reduced. The silt ponds, if properly maintained, would do a great deal to slow the return of sediments to the lake. Weeds will return after the dredging as they are a natural part of the ecosystem.

Drawbacks to this option are obvious. The condition of the current dam would prohibit a major drawdown of the lake. If the process began in September, some residents would experience dry wells for a period of months. Deep local community wells could be drilled to address this problem, and shallow wells could be deepened. Truck- and earth- moving machinery would be a noisy nuisance and a traffic hazard for several months. Heavy rainstorms would set back the work schedule, and ice formation would interfere with the removal schedule in the winter.

Under perfect conditions the project could possibly be done by the following summer. But first, the dam would have to be reconstructed so as to permit a major drawdown of the lake.

Then there is the issue of maintaining sufficient flow in the Lieutenant River during the several months of the drawdown.
Most daunting is the paperwork associated with such a project. Among these required administrative projects are a feasibility study, EPA acceptance, Army Corps of Engineers permit process, Connecticut DEP permit process, grant application, etc.

2. Dredging

Dredging addresses the fundamental problem of nutrient rich soils in shallow water producing luxuriant growth of aquatic vegetation. Dredging takes away the muck, leaving sand and gravel, and at the same time increases the depth of water so that light rays have more difficulty reaching any plants on the bottom.

Less nutrients and less light means fewer plants. Note that experts assert that some vegetation in the water is desirable for the overall health of the lake. The lake’s volume of water would be increased as sediment is removed.

A long term maintenance plan must accompany any dredging program to assure maximum benefit from the program. Silt ponds should be established and maintained at the mouths of the four main streams supplying the lake. An aggressive program to reduce the addition of nutrients by geese and other wild fowl must continue. The reduction of runoff of lawn chemicals is important as is the reduction of leafed trees at the water’s edge.

Vegetative buffers, rain gardens, and berms at water’s edge are also important means to reduce runoff. Septic tank pumpout, inspection, and needed repair also must be part of a comprehensive program.

If the 90 houses that are in the planning stage now are eventually built in the Rogers Lake watershed, there is the need to establish regulations governing the use of lawn fertilizers and lawn chemicals to limit increased phosphorus in the lake. This situation may require the establishment of retention ponds within each development.

Dredging is probably the only way to provide long term improvement to this vital resource. However, another approach worth discussing is to pump the 70+ acres of shallows to the deeper parts of the lake. No need to drawdown, no impact on wells, and no trucking issues. The marine life just gets relocated. There is no need to segregate dredging.

Another approach is to relocate silt temporarily in one area using a suction dredge, then remove the sand and gravel for landfill cover or commercial use to defray the cost of dredging. Refill the resulting deepened area with the original silt and repeat the process in an adjacent area.
The dredging operation would be supplemented by a full scale volunteer effort of property owners and volunteers dedicated to hand pulling of weeds.

Use riparian blankets in areas where weeds return and in areas of special need.
Advantages of such a plan are reduction in cost of dredging, heightened public awareness and responsibility, targeted eradication of migrating weed remnants, minimal interference with recreational use of the lake, a sound foundation for imposing necessary zoning and wetlands regulations necessary to prolong the advantages of the dredging plan, and most significant, there would be no need for dewatering and extensive pumping.

To determine the best approach for the specific problems of Rogers Lake, a feasibility study must be funded, state authorities must be involved, and most significant of all, the town must make the project an integral part of the Town Plan of Conservation and Development for the period 2010-2020.

How to Begin

The RLA has already taken a vital step in the process when it commissioned the Rogers Lake Study in 2002-2203, which provides a scientific data base from which to work. This study, according to the limnologists, needs to be updated. There are a few things that can be done immediately.
First, soil samples can be taken from various locations in the lake bed to test for harmful chemicals and whether or not the soils could be used elsewhere. The test samples can be tested at the Middlesex County NRCDS and WCD, UCONN Extension Service Center , P.O.Box 70 Haddam, Ct. 06438. This service is free.

Second, local contractors can be contacted to assess their willingness to participate in the removal of bottom sediments once they are deposited on land, what equipment is available to do the job, etc. They can be contacted to determine if they would be willing to compost weeds removed from the lake. The cost of geotextile dewatering bags can be determined.

An assessment of Hain’s Park as a dewatering area can be made. Chuck Lee of the Ct. DEP (860 424-3716) needs to be contacted to provide specific guidance for any dredging project. The RLA needs to provide guidance as to the membership of a committee dedicated to the project.
Third, a feasibility study must be made to determine the specific area to be dredged and the type of dredge to be used. The official bottom soil tests will determine whether the dredged materials can be marketed to reduce the cost of the project. The estimated cost of the feasibility study is around $20,000, essentially the same cost as a year of weed harvesting.

Once the feasibility study is completed, the towns can request the DEP to issue a permit to dredge. The towns can apply for state funds to defray the total cost of the dredging. The process is long and involved, but in the end Old Lyme will have dramatically improved its single most valuable natural resource for many years to come.

Once again, the Old Conservation Commission recommends that Rogers Lake be a central focus of the Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development for the period 2010-2020.
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Old Lyme Conservation Commission: 2010 Action Item List

Highest priority

1. Reduce pesticide use on town fields and school campuses to protect our children. Reduce the use of lawn chemicals town wide to protect well water purity.
2. Rogers Lake –develop a long term plan –promote it as a high priority item for the 2010 Town Plan of Conservation and Development-coordinate with Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions, Rogers Lake Authority, and Rogers Lake Associations
3. Purchase open space while land values are stable

High priority

1. Promote the Incorporation of Low Impact Development and Best Management Practices for Old Lyme’s next round of development by:

  1. Reducing clear cutting, the size of impervious surfaces, and lawn size
  2. Requiring replanting after clear cutting, especially bordering water bodies
  3. Establishing rain gardens, stream buffers, and earthen berms to reduce the impact of run-off into our water bodies
  4. Identifying and protecting vernal pools
  5. Reducing outdoor lighting pollution

2. Preserve the remaining farmland and promote farm activities and gardening
3. Revise subdivision regulations in connection with the open space program
4. Revise Planned Residential Conservation Development Regulations to provide better incentives for developers
5. Revise the subdivision regulations to make sure that the location of dedicated open space is in fact suitable for “parks, playgrounds, and recreation areas,” that the town or a trust is assigned the task of monitoring dedicated open space for a homeowners association, and that conservation easements in the favor of the town be regularly checked for compliance by a person hired for that purpose
6. Work on the establishment of a town wide interconnected trails network

Next level priority

  1. Air quality – Promote radon testing. Monitor the new bus barn
  2. Encourage bicycle use throughout the town
  3. Recycling – Establish a central electronics recycling site
  4. Establish a town leaf and brush composting (chips) site
  5. Work on stream improvement and habitat improvement
  6. Promote Solar panel and geothermal heating and cooling installations

Contact George James at 860 434-5589 or gajames@snet.net if you would like to take an active part in our program.

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