DANBURY NEWS TIMES: Lake Waramaug’s waters experiencing record clarity

Article & Photo: Katrina Koerting / Hearst Connecticut Media

Reports of items long lost to the depths of the lake being found poured in earlier this summer, as hardware dropped into the waters could finally be seen.

It’s just one of the benefits of this summer’s historic clarity, especially as lakes throughout the country are being plagued by toxic blue-green algae blooms. Connecticut, in general has had a good season, especially compared to the blooms that set up camp on Housatonic beaches this time last year.

“We not only beat the record, we completely destroyed it,” said Sean Hayden, Lake Waramaug Task Force’s executive director.

Visibility measurements were at 6 meters or more for weeks in June and July. The next best clarity was in 2010, but even those were three feet less, Hayden said.

The task force uses several methods to protect the lake, including zooplankton, aerators and a new catch basin study that will help prevent stormwater from entering the lake.

The big concern is cyanobacteria which can release toxins and form the notorious blue-green algae blooms.

Cyanobacteria have been around for 2.5 billion years and are believed to be the reason there’s oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. A problem has arisen more recently though as blooms have become more frequent. People and animals are in danger if those blooms produce toxins because they can cause serious illnesses if ingested or irritate the skin if they come in contact.

Kelsey Sodul, a research assistant with the task force, said the symptoms in the short term tend to resemble the flu , but they can cause neurological diseases over time. There’s also an economic piece to the problem too.

“If your lake is green, people won’t want to come,” she said.

Businesses and seasonal employees around Lake Hoptacong in New Jersey have reported a big financial hit because the lake has been closed for so long due to the blooms.

“One of the main things for the task force is to make life as uncomfortable as possible for cyanobacteria,” Hayden said. “Everything we do is focused on making it inhospitable for them.”

Some success

Hayden is still studying the lake’s 40 years of data and methods to determine why the lake is so clear. It’s evident the lake is doing better than its days as pea soup in the 1980s, but he’s quick to add the unusually high clarity isn’t a trend just yet.

“I don’t want to count our chickens because I know that one clear summer, does not a trend make,” he said.

Back in the 1980s, the lake was so bad the Secchi disc would vanish before it even hit the water because of all of the green foam.

Hayden and Sodul hope to share any successful strategies with other large lakes and have been given the blessing from the task force to travel out of state and give presentations and help in other ways. Hayden also joined the Connecticut Federation of Lakes Board of Directors to better share information.

At one square mile, Waramaug is the second largest natural lake in Connecticut.

The lake will still have blooms or turn green after a big storm, but Hayden said they don’t last as long as they once did.

“The task force has built up the lake’s immune system,” he said.

Within the lake

A key part of the approach is keeping the cyanobacteria away from their food source of nutrients in the water, especially phosphorus.

Though the cyanobacteria can regulate their bouyancy, they won’t travel to the cold depths of the lake, staying instead in the middle of the water column and rising to the top for photosynthesis. This generally gives the water at that the lowest level a smell similar to low tide at the beach because of all of the sediments trapped down there.

The four aerators throughout the lake help oxidize the lake and trap the iron and phosphorus that enter the water at the bottom because those particles become heavy and sink.

The school-bus size aerators have also helped push the colder layer of water lower in the lake, further keeping that food from the cyanobacteria. They’ve been near the Washington beach for about 15 years and at Arrow Point for about seven years.

Arrow Point is also home to the task force’s zooplankton farm. About a million zooplankton are introduced each week to eat the cyanobacteria. The zooplankton are fed twice a week, with a concoction very similar to the start of a bread recipe: just a half teaspoon each of yeast and sugar and a teaspoon of flour.

The problem is that Waramaug was stocked with alewives years ago in an effort to make it a trophy fishing lake. And while they’re a great food source for the bigger fish, their food source is the zooplankton. Hayden said they saw a big decrease in water quality around the time the alewives were added to the lake.

The task force now stocks brown trout annually to eat the alewives and keep them from going after the precious zooplankton.

“Fisherman are seeing less and less alewives,” Hayden said.

The task force also monitors how the zooplankton are doing during their weekly water quality checks, which use a Secchi disk to check the visibility, measure the temperature and dissolved oxygen at various depths and collect a water sample that might be sent off for testing.

“We like to know where they are and what they’re doing,” Sudol said.

There also hasn’t been as much curly-leaf pondweed, an aquatic invasive plant that the task force has suctioned out of the lake.

“I don’t want to say one year (without it) and we’re done because I’m sure there are beds lurking,” Hayden said.

Around the lake

The fight to protect isn’t done just from the water itself. There’s a key land component, including boat inspections at the Washington boat launch.

Hayden, whose background is in soil testing, just started a years-long study that maps, ranks and inventories all 140 catch basins around the lake to see how stormwater runoff — the lake’s biggest pollution source — is getting in. The task force can then use the study to come up with a treatment plan.

He also checks construction sites around the lake to make sure large amounts of soil isn’t ending up in the water.

“The lake takes a real body blow when a slug of sediments and turbidity goes into the lake,” Hayden said.

It costs about $1,000 to remove a pound of phosphorus from the lake and Waramaug has about 800 pounded already mass loaded. So Hayden is looking to the cheaper option of preventing it from getting into the lake in the first place.

“It’s free to remove phosphorus from stormwater, which is why I want to focus on stormwater,” he said, adding riparian buffers along the shore is an easy and cheap way to do this. “It’s an easy thing to do.”

LWTF Spring 2019 Newsletter

Dear Friends of Lake Waramaug -


When I am working around the lake, I often get the question,“Does anyone own the lake?” I attended a CT State Water Plan conference this winter, and most of the discussion at the daylong event was centered around the question, “Who owns Connecticut’s waters?” The plan was drafted and approved by the State Legislature because there was no guidance document that inventories our water resources and describes how Connecticut water is used. While Connecticut is blessed with an average of 50 inches of rain per year, there have also been severe drought years. The Plan sets up guidelines and strategies for the equitable distribution of water resources, especially during dry periods. It also includes provisions that recommend minimum stream flow standards needed to support healthy aquatic habitats. In short, The plan ensures that there will always be enough water for fish and faucet. The Governor is expected to approve the plan.

Believe it or not, the answer to the question “Who owns open water resources?” was first documented during the Roman Empire. It was proclaimed by law that nature was to be held in common for all; including air, fresh water and the seas. In the centuries following, this concept became known as the Public Trust Doctrine mandating that certain natural resources, such as the open waters of Connecticut, be preserved in perpetuity for public use and enjoyment.

The Public Trust Doctrine was promulgated in 1972 by the Connecticut General Assembly, and they declared: “there is a public trust in the air, water and other natural resources of the state of Connecticut and that each person is entitled to the protection, preservation and enhancement of the same.”

The Public Trust Doctrine empowers residents to protect their resources from degradation. While our state’s Public Trust Doctrine can be complicated from a legal perspective, Connecticut has truly embraced the public trust in natural resources by weaving its principles firmly into our laws, regulations and the clean-water-culture I often witness in the communities around the Lake. The public has expectations and rights to the life-sustaining benefits provided by common natural resources, and clean water benefits residents and communities well beyond the shores of Connecticut’s lakes.

So in the end, no one owns the lake; the Public Trust Doctrine confirms that we all do. Thank you for helping us preserve and improve the water quality in Lake Waramaug; after all, we all benefit from being good stewards of Connecticut’s waters.

Sean Hayden
Executive Director, Lake Waramaug Task Force

LWTF Fall 2018 Newsletter

We’re well into Fall and with that comes change; not just in the leaves and seasons, but this year in the leadership of the Lake Waramaug Task Force as well. As we reluctantly relinquish our hold on Molly Hart as Chair of our organization, it’s worthwhile remembering all that’s been accomplished under her aegis. We found a wonderful replacement in Sean Hayden for the estimable Tom McGowan as Executive Director; facilitated the reduction of the cattle herd causing runoff of pollutants into the lake; restructured the organization; and developed an achievable, yet focused, strategic plan. Our hats are off to Molly and her incredible energy for all she accomplished in three short years.

2018 was a challenging year for the lake. It started out with pristine conditions that saw clarity, dissolved oxygen and pollutant levels in ranges that had not been achieved in many years. As the summer wore on, however, torrential downpours followed by bouts of very hot, sun-drenched weather created prime conditions for algae blooms and the lake was severely tested. Clarity depths (the best measure of algae content) declined from almost 11 feet in late July to under 7 feet in early August, but then amazingly rebounded within a few weeks to a remarkable 10+ feet. It’s worth noting that our preeminent limnologist, Bob Kortmann, deadpanned of our efforts: “This seems to be working.” Indeed, subsequent measurements have confirmed that the resiliency of the lake is at unprecedented strength.

And that’s a result of the cumulative effect of the efforts of the Task Force during the last 40 years. While the results are evident in the swimmability and clarity of the lake, we’re constantly being assailed by new threats, and it is our job to counter them. Development poses a constant risk; but the availability of our Executive Director Sean to consult on new building projects has proven to be a wonderful and welcome resource to property owners who care to create properties that are responsive to the lake’s needs. Invasive plants are making new inroads; but we’ve underwritten additional efforts on the part of our limnologists and divers to identify and remove them. The elements have taken their toll on our aeration systems; but we’ve repaired and enhanced them. We’re starting new projects as well, like mapping all the storm drains on the lake roads to monitor their condition and remind the State when it’s time to clean them. We’ve organized our dedicated Directors in teams to address these issues: committees focusing on lake health, protecting the watershed, promoting lake science, and communicating with all our constituencies have been formed and are at work addressing the issues.

Implementing the recommendations from these efforts, in addition to our constant measuring, monitoring, bubbling, and zooplankton farming requires the help of all our supporters. We’re doing more than ever and have still more on our radar. We hope you all will support us in that effort.

With best regards,
Peary Stafford
Chair, Lake Waramaug Task Force

From Green to Clean

Lake Waramaug is known near and far as one of the jewels in this area. Sean Hayden, LWTF Executive Director, will deliver a visual presentation and highlight all that the Task Force has done, is doing and planning to do to protect and improve the water quality of the lake. Topics of discussions include: The In-Lake Layer Aeration System, Water Quality Sampling, the Zooplankton Farm on Arrow Point, Trout Stocking and its effect on the health of the lake, Construction Inspections, Site Plan Reviews, Agricultural Land Management Assistance, Environmental Education and Outreach, the Aquatic Invasive Weed Eradication Program and so much more.

The event will be held on August 9, 2018 at 6:30PM. It is free and will be held at the Gunn Memorial Library, 5 Wykeham Road, Washington CT. Registration is requested. 

Contact: Margaret Ferguson   860-868-7586  gunnprograms@biblio.org

Flyer Lake Waramug Task Force 8.9.18.jpg

LWTF Summer 2018 Newsletter

Dear Friends of Lake Waramaug:

The beauty of our surroundings never fails to uplift my spirit. How fortunate are we all to enjoy the benefits of a clean, clear and swimmable lake.

We can’t thank you enough for all the support you have provided over the years to get us to this point.

As our long awaited spring arrives, I am happy to report that the state of the Lake is good.

  • We turned our four aerators on mid-May, and recent testing of the Lake’s oxygen and temperature documents our extensive in-lake aeration systems continue to improve water clarity. We are averaging 9 feet as of this writing.

  • The results from our annual testing for the presence of naturally occurring cyanobacteria in the Lake indicates it continues to decline year over year — as evidenced in the chart in our Clean Water Corner on page 4.

Even more satisfying, our spring invasive weed survey indicates our decision to bite the financial bullet and double down on our suction harvesting and hand pulling program was a success. Our efforts have kept the growth of Curlyleaf Pondweed at bay without the use herbicides. Our divers report populations have diminished where extensive pulling was concentrated.

We continue to work on our Zooplankton Farm — which releases millions of hungry, algae-eating microorganisms into the Lake each week. Our complimentary Water Quality Planning Assistance Program for landowners planning construction and landscaping projects near the lake is proving effective. Several property owners have installed some beautiful — and Lake beneficial — buffer plantings as a result. Others are now aware of the importance of keeping their catch basins clean. Our agreement is in place with Tanner Farm to end the farm’s dairy operation, which will minimize harmful Lake water pollution and nutrient runoff. The farm plans on converting to a hay operation.

Our Executive Director, Sean Hayden, continues to expand our community outreach. He and Kelsey Sudol, our summer research assistant, hosted several classes for the Warren Elementary School at our Zooplankton Farm. Sean will also be hosting an invasive weed identification seminar on June 28, and a State of the Lake talk at the Gunn Museum on August 9.

All this is good news. But this good news does not call for complacency. Development, erosion, a warming climate and toxic runoff present ever increasing challenges. As challenges mount, we must do more. Our costs have increased dramatically. In 2016, expenses in our three major programs: 1) in-lake systems, 2) invasive plant control, and 3) watershed programs have exceeded $230,000. In 2017, they exceeded $280,000. In 2018, we project operating expenses to hit $300,000.

Please contribute, and allow us to continue and intensify our lake saving programs.

Molly Butler Hart
Chair, Lake Waramaug Task Force

'Tis the Season for Giving

Dear Friend of Lake Waramaug

We cannot keep Lake Waramaug clear, clean, and swimmable without you. The exclusive mission of the Lake Waramaug Task Force is to maintain the water quality of the Lake. 50 years ago, prior to the formation of the Task Force, Waramaug was effectively dead. Today, with the benefit of your steadfast support, the Lake is again alive and beautiful. But we must not let down our guard.

LWTF Fall 2017 Newsletter

Dear Friends of Lake Waramaug - Congratulations!

Your commitment to Lake Waramaug shows. This summer our beautiful Lake sparkled. Swimmers, boaters, water-skiers, kayakers, paddleboarders, campers, fisher-people... all enjoyed the benefits of your ongoing support: Waramaug’s clean, clear, swimmable water.

For the Lake Waramaug Task Force this was not only a beautiful summer, it was also a busy summer.

We welcomed Sean Hayden aboard as our new Executive Director. Sean was out on the Lake almost every day coordinating water quality testing, surveying for invasive weeds, making sure our in-lake aeration system kept working, overseeing the feeding and release of Zooplankton from our incubators tanks on Arrow Point, inspecting stormwater culverts and construction activities along the shoreline, consulting with our lake scientists and assisting landowners on lake-friendly ways to landscape within the Lake Waramaug watershed. Phew!

Call to Action - Five Key Challenges

The Lake Waramaug Task Force has been around for 40+ years. It is a non-profit scientific and educational organization dedicated to restoring and maintaining the ecology and water quality of Lake Waramaug and its watershed. The Task Force spearheaded the turnaround of the Lake beginning in 1975, and has been on the job ever since. Our Lake is clean, and the water quality is vastly better today because of the Task Force’s vigilance. But the job is not done. We must address each of the following five challenges if we hope to continue to keep the Lake clean and healthy.  Read more here.

An example of the important work effected by LWTF are the erosion repairs at Sucker Brook, a stream responsible for an estimated 50% of the Lake's water inflow. Over the years, several sites have developed where the stream curves that have washed away much of the soil bank, undermining trees (and, in one location, State Route 45) and depositing tons of silt into the Lake.  Read about the LWTF repair project here.


Task Force Welcomes New Executive Director

The Board of Lake Waramaug Task Force is thrilled to welcome Sean Hayden as the new LWTF Executive Director.  Sean comes to the Task Force with over 30 years of experience in Environmental Conservation, and in depth knowledge of the ecology and history of Lake Waramaug.  Prior to joining the Task Force, Sean spent 18 years as Executive Director and Soil Scientist at the Northwest Conservation District (NCD).  During his tenure at NCD Sean worked side by side with the 34 towns and residents of Northwest CT – including the Task Force – to conserve natural resources by using sustainable development strategies.

Because the health of Lake Waramaug depends upon what flows into the Lake, Sean’s qualifications are exactly in line with the LWTF’s needs.  He is an expert in Low Impact Development (LID), and a certified Soil Scientist, Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineator and Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control.  He has worked with multiple wetlands and zoning commissions to revise municipal regulations, watershed planning, sediment and erosion control and storm-water quality management plans. In fact, many of you may already have met Sean.  He is well versed on the issues facing Lake Waramaug and has been working with the LWTF on our complimentary Water Quality Protection Service for the past year.

Prior to working at NCD, Sean spent 3 years as an Agro-Forester with the Peace Corps in Kenya. One interesting tidbit: Sean is fluent in Swahili!  And, he is “home grown.”  Sean graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BS in Renewable Natural Resource Management & Engineering.  He and his wife, Rose Guimaraes, live in Torrington and are avid “outdoors-people.”  Sean can be reached at seanhayden@lakewaramaug.org


A Message from Tom McGowan

After many years of “only in your dreams” work with the Task Force I am retiring. I would like to express my deepest appreciation for everyone who has contributed time, funds and moral support for the mission of the Task Force over the past 43 years.  The current and all past members of the Board, the First Selectmen of the three towns on the Lake Waramaug Interlocal Commission, Lake Waramaug Association and Lake Authority.  Maintaining good working relationships with these organizations, the town land use boards and local land trusts has been and will continue to be crucial to the success of the Task Force.  

Special thanks to our outstanding team of lake science advisors - our long time highly decorated lake research and development guru Dr. Robert Kortmann and his staff at Ecosystems Consulting Services, our invasive plant specialist Dr. George Knoecklein and our plant removal diving team under Matt Vogt.  Also to the clerical and bookkeeping staff, especially Lois Pinney, and Hank Vallely who, with his assistance, have since 1999 carefully inspected all motor boats entering the lake for invasive plants.  

Waramaug continues to enjoy improving water quality solely due to all the lake saving work we have done every year for so long.  This work must continue and it must remain as it has been - ahead of the curve. All the very best to everyone.  And here’s to the continued health and wellbeing of Lake Waramaug.





Task Force Gets Garden Club of America Award

The Lake Waramaug Task Force has been honored by The Garden Club of America!  We received the GCA’s award for “The Lake Waramaug Task Force’s dedicated commitment to a restoration program to maintain the ecology and water quality for the future.”  LWTF Chair Molly Butler Hart accepted the award from Karen Marche, GCA Conservation Committee, Zone II Representative at a luncheon at Hollister House. Kudos to all those who have supported the Task Force over the years.  This prestigious award is yours as well as ours.