Candlewood Lake’s Islands Face Uncertain Future
Candlewood Lake’s Islands Face Uncertain Future
The following is the Candlewood Lake Authority’s September newsletter–
Candlewood Lake has (by our count) 28 islands. Some of Candlewood’s islands are not much more than a few trees clutching to a group of rocks above the water line, trying to keep from being swallowed up by a weekend’s worth of waves, while others such as Deer and Green Islands in Sherman, are substantial. Candlewood Lake’s once-biggest island, Candlewood Isle, remained a detached piece of land for only about a year after Candlewood Lake was formed. The Lake was created in 1928 and according to the Candlewood Isle website, by 1929 Candle- wood Isle was connected to the mainland by a causeway.
Candlewood Lake is being impacted in many ways by our activity as a community, and the islands are not im- mune. In fact the smaller, more accessible islands are seeing the greatest damage…some is natural, however the majority is man-made – either intentional or as a by-product of us enjoying Candlewood Lake.
Take Skull and Skeleton islands in New Fairfield. They are located just off the western tip of Vaughn’s Neck. Take a boat ride by them any sunny day and you’re likely to find one, if not many, boats pulled up with people out enjoying the sandy shores and shallow waters. But look closer and you’ll see two islands that are in the process of rapid change, disappearing into the Lake, due to extensive erosion. Someday, these islands may no longer ex- ist…with only hazard buoys marking their former locations.
Trees fall off the cliff along New Fairfield’s Skeleton Island as it erodes into the Lake.
Erosion is a part of nature. Many of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Grand Canyon for one, have been formed by erosion over millions of years. However, the erosion we see on some of Candlewood’s is- lands (and shoreline) has been rapidly accelerated by human activity.
Rainfall and wind-driven waves slowly eat away at islands and their shorelines, and both are a natural occurrence. However, accelerated erosion occurs on areas of islands once protected by canopies of trees and shrubs which have been irresponsibly removed and burned for firewood, while large waves from boats also contributes to accelerated shoreline erosion.
That’s what’s happening on Candlewood Lake. This popular recreation area is feeling the pressure and our islands are just one indicator of the impact that we as a resident and visitor community are having.
So what can be done to help our islands? First of all, visitors to island and shore- line areas of the Lake must treat them with respect. The deep roots of trees and other undergrowth help to slow erosion on our islands, yet we have seen evidence and received eyewitness reports of people cutting down trees and brush on some of Candlewood Lake’s smallest and most fragile islands (which have very few trees to begin with)…to make campfires. Cutting down ANY vegetation along the shoreline is strictly prohibited - besides, live trees don’t burn well. You should not confront those doing things detrimental to our islands and natural shoreline areas yourself, but you should report it immediately to the CT DEEP Dispatch.
Secondly, visiting an island or shoreline area for the day is not prohib- ited – but visitors must clean up after themselves. Do not leave any garbage or items behind. All too often we find beer cans, lawn chairs or other garbage littering our islands and uninhabited shoreline areas.
Lastly, when boating on Candlewood, get up to speed and on plane quickly to reduce the wake you are creating. In doing so you will help reduce shoreline erosion and smaller waves will make boating on the Lake more pleasant for everyone.
Boaters on Candlewood Lake often times like to pull up to an uninhab- ited stretch of shoreline to get out and stretch their legs and maybe have a picnic. When visiting one of Candle- wood’s small islands or stepping onto the sandy shores of Vaughn’s Neck, visitors will be greeted by new signage on lands owned by FirstLight Power Resources, who is in the process of installing the signs. They have started placing them at Candlewood Lake’s most popular spots, and will continue to install additional sig- nage along their lands here.
FirstLight states that in accordance with their license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it “provides open public access to its land for the public, generally for passive recreation activities such as fishing, hiking, picnicking, and sight-seeing. However, this signage also specifies activities that FirstLight does not provide for on its lands. These activities include swimming, diving, overnight camping, and the possession and/or consumption of alcohol.”
This off-season, the CT DEEP and FirstLight Power Resources will be working together with local law enforce- ment agencies to create a formal enforcement protocol for misuse of Candlewood’s islands and water- accessible-only natural shoreline areas (e.g. Vaughn’s Neck). Until that protocol is established and formally announced, if you spot a problem please call CT DEEP 24-hour Dispatch at 860-424-3333.
Each summer we receive calls from residents and boaters to inform us of suspect activity. This summer we received several reports of numerous trees being cut down on Danbury’s City Island. We have received simi- lar reports on other islands in past years, as well as calls about campfires and camping violations. We appre- ciate the residents looking out for the long-term well-being of our islands and natural areas.
This summer many residents and users of Candlewood Lake noticed poorer than normal water transparency levels. Our water quality was being impacted by algae blooms. While algae blooms aren’t rare on Candlewood, the fact that this year’s blooms lasted as long as they did was unique.
Blooms on Candlewood Lake usually bring algae to the surface rapidly, however these events are usually short-lived, disappearing in hours or the next day. The algae blooms this year were not limited to the surface of the water.
Candlewood Lake has what is known as blue-green algae. Blue-green algal toxins are naturally produced by blue-green algae, however blue-green algae doesn’t always produce these toxins and there is no easy way to tell if the algae are producing them.
The nature of this summer’s blooms were a cause for concern at the CLA. As a result, water quality samples were taken and sent off to a GreenWater labs in Florida for analysis. The results from that analysis showed that the algae concentrations were borderline, but not high enough to warrant further action.
What causes the blooms? The event of a bloom is believed to be driven by light and nutrients. Increased nutrients entering our waters may be contributing to the frequency and duration of these blooms, so reducing nutrient input (fertilizers, detergents containing phosphorous, malfunctioning septic systems etc.) can help to minimize these blooms in the future.
Each year for a week in August, CLA staff gets up before the birds and heads out on the water to count and categorize all of the boats that are docked along the shores of Candlewood Lake. Powerboats, sailboats, PWC’s and paddle craft are all included – and the boats are then further classified in the data that is collected. The boat count goes back to 1981 and we have over 30 years of data to help us understand how the “res- ident boat population” is changing on the lake. The figure to the right shows a total of 5,517 resident vessels in 2012, down from around 6,000 the prior two years. Unregistered refers to paddle craft and sailboats that don’t require registrations, and cabin and no cabin refer to boats with and without cabins that are required to have a registration.
FirstLight Power Re- sources is in the pro- cess of replacing the old wooden portion of the penstock in New Milford. The water level has been brought down to approx. 427′ and will be held at this level until at least October 15th, accord- ing to a statement from FirstLight.
The replacement of the penstock is not expected to alter the draw down schedule this winter. Assuming all goes as planned, this year should be a deep draw down year.
Thank you to the NF Senior Center’s Environ- mental Corps for another year of volunteering to gather water samples from 20 sites on the lake throughout the summer.
For many, seeing the Candlewood Lake Authority with a booth at New Milford’s Village Fair Days this July was something new. But those who have been around a while may remember that the CLA used to attend this event regularly. The CLA’s return to Village Fair Days was an effort to continue the CLA’s education and outreach efforts by reaching out to a new audience while reconnecting with others.
The CLA booth covered many educational and informational topics related to Candlewood Lake and the ecosystem they are working hard to protect. Visitors who stopped by had a chance to interact with CLA staff and delegates who were on hand
to answer questions. The CLA also offered their new Candlewood Lake merchandise for sale, including a variety of t-shirts, beach towels and baseball hats.
It was a great two day event, despite the deluge of rain that came around 2pm on the last day! We managed to stay relatively dry and welcomed the company of any brave attendees who wanted to seek refuge under the tent covering our booth.
Report Available on CLA’s Website
In late 2010, the Town of New Fairfield contracted with North- east Aquatic Research LLC to examine the important question of whether or not winter draw downs could or have caused ecologi- cal harm to the Candlewood Lake. This question grew in recent years out of interests by some in the lake area to request deep draw downs each winter to manage noxious Eurasian watermilfoil in the Lake.
Over the course of the following year, NEAR’s Principal Investiga- tor, Dr. George Knoecklein, assembled and examined a consider- able amount of information collected from available resources. The CLA, for example, provided water quality data collected an- nually since 1983; CT DEEP provided fisheries data from the Lake going back to the mid 1970s; the CT Agricultural Experiment Sta- tion provided data collected in annual mapping of aquatic plants in Candlewood since 2005; and FirstLight Power Resources pro- vided lake level, lake volume, and information regarding the lake’s shape and form. Other information was collected on wetlands, invertebrate and vertebrate animals, and local weather.
The results and conclusions from Dr. Knoecklein’s report, now available on the CLA’s website, were sobering. While deep draw downs have provided variable degrees of relief from milfoil, they may also be having harmful effects on the ecology of the lake. Findings indicated that water quality in Candlewood was declining and the draw downs may be contributing to that decline by increasing nutrient levels in the lake, contributing to loss of oxygen in greater areas of the lake, and causing loss of native plant and animal diversity and habitat.
While Dr. Knoecklein noted correlations between water quality and draw downs at Candlewood, he also noted that determining the actual cause of deterioration in water quality was beyond the scope of the study and that other environmental pressures could cause these declines in the health of the lake. Some of these other pres- sures discussed in the report included watershed and shoreline development and polluted stormwater runoff.
It is important to note that there are no plans to stop doing biennial deep draw downs. However, the report confirms already existing concerns that going to an an- nual program could have unwanted, detrimental effects on Candlewood Lake. To view the report in its entirety, go to http://www.candlewoodlakeauthority.org.
What’s the Lake Level?
To find out the current level of the Lake, you can call FirstLight’s automated Lake Level Phone Line. It is updated regularly.
CT DEEP at Candlewood Lake
On July 17th the Candlewood Lake area was visited by many of the leaders of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). These included Commissioner Dan Esty, Deputy Commis- sioner Susan Frechette, Boating Division Director Eleanor Mariani and many others. The visit started at Rocky River Power Station where the plant was gen- erating power. Afterwards the DEEP entourage made a stop at Gerard’s Waters Edge Marina in New Milford where a tour of a portion of the lake was provided. The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner set out on a boat donated by the marina along with several from the Lake Authority and local legislators Representatives Clark Chapin and Bob Godfrey. A range of topics were discussed including open space protection, aquatic invasive species, and shoreline management.
After the tour, all parties assembled at Echo Bay Marina where the Commissioner and other DEEP representa- tives addressed the public that had assembled. The Commissioner exhibited an awareness of the many issues confronting Candlewood Lake and commitment that the Department would do what it could to help re- solve those issues. During the reception that followed, those that had gathered could check out the new DEEP pump out vessel which will remain on the Lake and provide an onboard toilet pump out service to boaters.
The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is operating a pumpout boat on Candle- wood Lake, the first on a lake in CT.
“Candlewood Lake is Connecticut’s largest lake and also one of the state’s most popular recreation destinations,” said DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty. “On any given weekend there are hundreds of boats on the lake, many with onboard toilets. It is vital that boat owners utilize pumpout facilities to maintain the health of the lake for everyone that vis- its and for the fish and wildlife that inhabit the lake.”
The boat will be on the lake on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Boat- ers wishing to schedule a pumpout should call 860-985-9474 during the scheduled hours.
Candlewood Lake got a mid-season cleaning thanks to PerkinElmer sponsoring “For the Better Day!” In July, PerkinElmer employees collected and removed seven bags full of trash. In the process they cleaned three islands and stopped at four beaches on Vaughn’s Neck where they found debris left along the shoreline of the Lake.
The Candlewood Lake Authority would like to thank PerkinElmer and the volunteers who came out that day to make Candlewood a better (and cleaner) place!
Project CLEAR 2012
At the conclusion of this year’s Project CLEAR program, everyone was in agreement; this group of Project CLEAR students had something different about them. Every year the students work hard doing research during their first week of summer vacation, but this year’s group came with a sense of purpose. They were especially dedicated to the task at hand and to furthering their knowledge, while conducting valuable research on the Lake.
Four days of research, by eight different research groups (Aquatic Invasives, Biodiversity, Fisheries, Forestry, Plankton, Shoreline, Streams, Water Quality) were followed up by a day of preparation for the Friday evening public presentation by the students of their research. In attendance that evening were the students and teachers, program staff, the general public and several noted guests: Sherman First Selectman Clay Cope, District Director for Congressman Murphy: Rob Michalik and Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Putting this incredibly valuable program together each year is no small task. While Project CLEAR was a CLA initiative back in 2001 within the New Fairfield school system, nine years ago the CLA partnered with Education Connection in order to grow the program and offer it to the current five school systems. This program continues to evolve and increase its value, both to the students involved and the scientific community and of course, to Candlewood Lake. This past year, Project CLEAR students met two times during the school year at the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Kellogg Environmental Center in Derby, CT to learn and prepare for their field research in June. Also, during the field research, the plankton group was joined by Yale PhD student, Mary Rogalski, while the Biodiversity group was joined by Christopher P. Allen, of Land-Tech Consultants, Inc. As was mentioned, we had several noted guests in attendance on the presentation evening, each of whom also spoke to the audience. Rob Michalik has been an annual attendee and supporter for a number of years, while Sherman’s new First Selectman Clay Cope attended this year as did Senator Blumenthal, all of whom showed their support and interest in what the students were doing in this unique program.
Approximately 125 students participate in Project CLEAR each year. The popular program is offered to students from Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield and New Milford high schools. A special thank you to the volunteer boat captains, without whom this program would not happen. While some lake community members may only boat on Candlewood Lake, many will take a weekend to head off to Lake George, the Hudson River or one of NY’s Finger Lakes…and then there’s the occasional day trip to Lake Zoar or Lake Lil- linonah. All of those lakes (and many others found here) have zebra mussels and if you go there even for the day, you could easily bring back microscopic young zebra mussel veligers on your boat or trailer, in ballast water etc.
It is up to everyone – day boaters, fishermen, kayakers, out-of-state boaters, in-state boaters etc. – to do their part to prevent the spread of zebra mussels. We are urging ALL of our lake communities to join the municipal, State and marina ramps in posting zebra mus- sel alert signage. Please take advantage of our offer for a FREE zebra mussel alert sign to post by your ramp. It’s 12”x18” and made out of aluminum. We also have attrac- tive tri-folds which provide more information and those too are available free of charge.
To receive your sign and tri-folds please contact the CLA at 860-354-6928.