By Holly Crocco
The Town of Southeast is considering ways to improve the health of Lake Tonetta, and recently heard a proposal from EverBlue Lakes, which the town hired to complete an analysis of the water, as well as the watershed around the lake.
The initiative has been spearheaded by Councilman Eric Cyprus.
John Tucci, president of EverBlue Lakes, explained during the Jan. 25 Southeast Town Board meeting that a water quality study was completed throughout the summer to determine the degree to which the lake has been overloaded and impaired by phosphorus.
“One thing people need to know is all lakes in this area, and in developed areas around the country, are under tremendously more pressure for harmful algal blooms, poor water quality, and growth of things that you don’t want in a healthy lake or a lake that you want to swim in and use,” he said. “Lake Tonetta is no exception.”
However, Tucci said the town has managed to keep the lake in good shape.
“This town has done a better job than most in handling the stormwater around the lake and either cleaning it or keeping it away from the lake, so that those pollutants can’t enter the lake,” he said.
Regardless, Tucci said the lake is suffering from pollutants and is susceptible to harmful algal blooms and overgrowth. He said that in June, water samples showed the lake had good oxygen levels and phosphorus was under control, but by his second trip to the lake, oxygen levels had already dropped and phosphorus had increased.
By the end of the season, the lake was experiencing “some pretty severe” blue-green algae blooms, he said.
Another issue that plagues Lake Tonetta is that it has highly fertile soil at the bottom of it.
“So, no matter how good we do at stopping everything new from coming into the lake, there still is a storehouse of fertilizers in the lake that we believe needs to be dealt with if you want to get this lake healthier and less at risk for harmful algal blooms,” said Tucci.
He proposed installing a whole lake aeration system, with additional targeted aeration at the two main beach sites. Tucci said bubblers sit at the bottom of the lake and turn over the entire water body twice a day.
“What we want to do is prevent, most of all,” he said. “So we want to get lakes to stay in the condition your lake was in, in June, and keep it there so you never get so much growth that you’ve got all this massive die-off that then either falls to the bottom or gets pushed around to the water column and makes the lake look turbid or nasty looking,” he said.
The cost to lease the aeration system from EverBlue Lakes would be about $21,300 per year for the first three years, with increases for subsequent years. Since the system is electric, the town would also see an increase in its energy bill.
Tucci also suggested the town introduce a biological treatment technology to the lake that consists of “beneficial bacteria,” which he explained is the same bacteria that is the base of the fish food chain in the lake. By putting more in, in an oxygenated environment, it would change the compost at the bottom of the lake from food for weeds and algae into food for fish, he said.
“So, the result we’re trying to achieve over a period of time… is clearer water, less muck on the bottom, and happier, healthier fish that have more oxygen to breathe and more food to eat,” said Tucci. “It seems like every year it’s getting harder and harder for lakes to say healthy.”
He referred to the Canadian wildfires last year that brought smoke and fog to the region, and the 3-to-6-inch rains we experienced in the fall as challenges to keeping water bodies clean and clear.
Tucci also said gravity is not working in the lake’s favor.
“Every lake is a low spot, but your lake is a severe low spot with a lot of high ground above it,” he said. ‘So, gravity is pushing whatever is in the leach fields down toward the lake. It’s not at a rapid rate, but those leech fields have been delivering nutrients to the soil for decades. So those plumes are getting to the lake and they’re being resupplied every year.”
Tucci also said septic pump-out ordinances are a good idea for the town to enforce, which it already does. However, even if the town got funding to improve infrastructure and sewering around the lake, it still takes time to see change.
“Even if you spent millions to put sewers in tomorrow, it’s still going to take 10, 15 years for those sewers to take effect,” he said. “All of these things are a good thing to do, but it comes down to what you can afford… If you can afford it, I think we’ve got to attack the lake because the oxygen data and the muck data tells me that even if you had nothing coming into the lake for the next five years, you’ve got 10, 15, 20 years’ worth of fertilizer to feed weeds and algae in that lake.”