Lake drawdown put off until 2014
WINSTED — After much deliberation during their meeting at Town Hall on Thursday, Jan. 19, the Highland Lake Water Level Committee decided not to conduct a deep drawdown of the lake until 2014.Highland Lake is drawn down every year, but a deep drawdown occurs when the water level is lowered by at least 8 feet.The last deep drawdown for Highland Lake took place in November 2009.The committee, along with several residents, discussed the benefits of a deep drawdown and its negative aspects.At the beginning of the meeting, a presentation was given by committee member Edward Bollenbach, a professor emeritus of microbiology and chemistry at Northwestern Connecticut Community College.“The social purpose of a deep drawdown is to accommodate lakefront property owners with construction projects and clean up,” Bollenbach said. “Also, it aids in cleaning up Eurasian water-milfoil and variable-leaf milfoil.”Both types of milfoil are invasive species and have impacted the lake substantially in recent years.When there are high milfoil amounts in the lake, it becomes difficult for people to swim, boats in the water pick up the milfoil and water clarity goes down.Later in his presentation, Bollenbach said the detriments of deep drawdowns outweighs its benefits, especially when it comes to soft, organic, highly reduced mud.Soft, organic, highly reduced mud is made out of once living material, including leaf waste, sticks and animal bodies.It is called “highly reduced” because the mud itself is totally devoid of oxygen.The mud is located in shallow sections surrounding the lake.“If you take a thimble filled with soft organic highly reduced mud and analyzed it for bacteria, there is more bacteria in that thimble alone than there are people on the face of the earth,” Bollenbach said. “The mud drains out oxygen from material. When it comes in touch with oxygen, it soaks it up like a sponge.”Bollenbach said that, over the years, deep drawdowns have caused the soft organic highly reduced mud to go into deep sections of the lake, which have become anoxic, devoid of oxygen.Bollenbach said that this has had a detrimental impact on the lake’s trout habitat.“We lose substantial trout habitat in August and September,” Bollenbach said. “I would hate to see the lake have a species switch where carp or catfish replace trout in the lake.”Bollenbach said that carp and catfish are both species that do not require as much oxygen as trout.“We are finding more and more that parts of the lake are anoxic,” he said. “Sixty years ago, down to 65 feet, there was enough oxygen to have good habitat for trout. This has changed substantially, and it is alarming.”Committee Chairman Claire Stevens said that it is possible to dredge the lake in order to clean the mud up.However, Stevens said the process would be very expensive.“In 1991, a study was conducted that estimated it would cost $1.2 million to clean it up,” Stevens said. “I would estimate that, in today’s figures, it would cost $10 million.”Eventually, the committee decided against doing a deep drawdown until 2014.According to Stevens, Highland Lake will be drawn down by 3 feet sometime in November.The committee scheduled a lake drawdown of 4 feet in Nov. 2013.Stevens said that the schedule is only a recommendation by the committee, who will present it to the Board of Selectmen at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21.