Lakes Hold their Own

posted Feb 24, 2017, 6:14 AM by Joseph Bickard

The prolonged drought that engulfed the Lake Region was likely the driving force behind this past summer’s better than average water quality. The lack of precipitation caused water levels to drop lower than we’ve seen in years and the absence of rain meant the usual nutrients and sediments that wash into our lakes stayed put in the watershed.

Our three most telling water quality assessments all showed 2016 was a good year. Secchi disk readings were deeper than average on almost 70% of the lakes in the area. Deeper Secchi readings mean you can see down further into the lake, which is definitely a good thing! This also means there is less algae in the lake. But we have a more direct way of measuring algae through chlorophyll concentrations. These were also lower on a whopping 80% of our lakes! Not surprisingly, phosphorus, the nutrient that feeds algae, was lower than average on 72% of the 40 lakes LEA tests.

While it was dry, it was still unusual to have so many lakes showing better than average results. Over the winter, we will be looking at similar drought years to compare overall water quality. The last major drought n 1999 threw off water quality trends by spiking clarity (for the better) and lowering nutrient and algae concentrations in waters across the state.

We can’t control the weather, but this dry spell shows the difference we can make by infiltrating our stormwater. Even in rural, primarily forested areas like ours, development along the lake shore and tributary streams causes excess sediment and nutrients to enter the water. This happens when roads, road shoulders, driveways, paths or man-made ditches erode during rain events. To prevent this from occurring, we all have to be diligent about how we maintain our own land and how towns conduct public works projects.

It costs more up front to do it right, but this expense is recouped by reduced maintenance costs. Ignoring regular maintenance is a fast track to expensive fixes for our basic infrastructure and causes unintentional but totally preventable harm to our lakes.

This summer was dry and our lakes benefitted, but we cannot expect this same trend every year. Locally, we have seen an increase in big storms from our monitoring at the National Atmospheric Deposition Climate Assessment solidified these findings by showing that there has been a 71% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events in New England. While all areas in the continental United States showed increases in these big storms, the northeast has been hit the hardest. Knowing this, hopefully we can all take action to make sure our waters stay clean and clear every year to protect the values that lakes provide to our citizens and economy.

Staff Writer, LEA Lake News, Winter 2017 Edition, December 2016