Update: Association continues to battle blue-green algae

What has your association been up to during the winter months?

We have a plan for the weeds… so now it is all about the algae blooms!

It is a story of hopes raised, skirmishes won and lost, determined and persistent optimism! So far….. it is a story with no clear conclusion….

Important facts to remember:

  • Blue-green algae blooms / cyanobacteria are a known health hazard. They occur in most slow moving bodies of water, not just in the US but across the world. When the cyanobacteria reach high concentrations people are advised to avoid contact with the water. Here is more information about the health risks of cyanobacteria from the Mass. Department of Public Health.
  • Algae blooms consistently occur in our lake, typically from early August through to the end of the year. The algae are fed by excess nutrients (mostly phosphorus) in the water column.
  • A lengthy EPA report on Lake Attitash, done by our very own EPA scientist and lake resident Hillary Snook, was completed in 2014. Among other things it indicates that the major source of nutrients that feed the algae blooms is now coming from the lake sediment itself.
  • Ken Wagner of Water Resources, Inc. was hired in 2015 by the LAA to tell us how to best reduce the cyanobacteria / algae blooms. He reviewed the EPA report, did some additional testing and in December 2015 made some recommendations. The most practical/ affordable recommendation is a lake-wide ALUM treatment. Alum seals the nutrients into the sediment preventing the nutrients from entering the water column and being accessible to the algae.
  • The cost of a one-time alum treatment was estimated to be $600,000. Its benefit (greatly improving water clarity and reducing the algae blooms) would last 15 to 20 years.
  • The cost of annual low-dose alum treatments would be $40,000. This would improve water clarity and reduce algae blooms but would have to be repeated 12 times over several years (once or twice annually).

Hopes raised:
In December we learned that Lake Attitash would be eligible for a s.319 grant from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, with funds channeled though the MA Dept. of Environmental Protection – MADEP. This grant could pay for the one-time alum treatment. Lake Attitash is eligible for this grant because over the past many years the towns and LAA have done all that can reasonably be done to prevent nutrients from getting into the lake from storm-water run-off in the watershed.

The MADEP s.319 grants pay for 60% of the cost, and the LAA and the towns would have to come up with the remaining $240,000.

Long story short:
After numerous meeting with Mayor Gray and his staff and with Merrimac’s Selectmen, and with the assistance of Senator O’Connor Ives and Representatives Kelcourse and Mirra, we came up with a plan.

The Plan!
Our political team would ask the Governor to release the $150.000 that Senator O’Connor Ives put in the Environmental Bond Bill a few years back. Because this is not federal money it could go towards the required $240.000 match. We would then ask Merrimac for $20,000 and Amesbury for $50.000 and come up with $20,000 from the LAA.
We also hired Ken Wagner to write the grant as his widely recognized expertise and reputation would be a great asset.

The ups:
Merrimac agreed to make a commitment for the $20,000 provided it met with town support at the annual meeting. Amesbury agreed to put aside $50,000.

The downs:
In spite of strong support and two letters to the Governor signed by Ives, Mirra and Kelcourse, we have not received any word from the Governor about the release of the $150.000.

The Grant application had to be received by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection by June 2, 2016. We could not apply without proof of adequate funding of the required match money. The deadline has passed.

Now what?!
We are proceeding with some cautious optimism. As this is an annual grant program, we are considering trying again next year. We had asked Ken Wagner to prepare the technical content of the grant application and we now have that in hand. More work needs to be done to complete all the required documents – they sure don’t make it easy!

If we try again for the big grant, we still need to find the $240,000. We expect that the towns will contribute at least as much as they promised us this year. We are less optimistic about the State being able to release the $150,000 because in spite of tremendous political support and a great cause we were not successful this year. We have several more months in which to explore other ways of getting the non-federal match.

We could focus on doing the annual low-dose alum treatments, costing $40,000 each year. We would need to continue this for several years.

Remember it still costs us about $20,000 every year to take care of the nuisance and invasive weed growth in the lake.

Either way

  • Now is the time to dig deep to donate to this project
  • Now is the time to volunteer to do a neighborhood fundraiser for this project. A yard sale, bake sale, raffle, auction…..
  • Now is the time to consider that for the pleasure of enjoying the lake and all it offers we need to all pay for its maintenance and protection…like a condo fee!
  • Make sure you keep up your membership and send in your annual pledge
  • Never put fertilizer that contains phosphorus on your lawn
  • Always pick up after your pet
  • Come to board meetings and to the annual meeting (August 11th at Merrimac Public Library). Come and help.

What if we do nothing?
The blue-green algae blooms will continue and may become more frequent and more intense. The restrictions on boating and swimming will increase. The risk to the health of all area residents and pets will continue.

You need to know that a small group of people give their time to do what we can to protect this lake we all enjoy. We can’t tackle everything. We do need reinforcements and we do need your membership and pledges. Mostly we need folks who are willing to lend a hand in whatever way they can.

Get involved!
Get in touch: info@lakeattitash.org