With the lake level two feet below normal, the issue of dam management was once again at the forefront of the Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting on Monday, with several residents and business owners advocating a policy change that would reduce dam outflow downstream.
The lake level discussion wove its way into several parts of the monthly meeting, which also included an update on the weed harvest, notification that the annual motorboat races would be canceled, concerns about enforcement of lake boating laws, and information about an increase in algal blooms, among other things.
“You guys really need to have all the facts to understand how Lake Hopatcong is being mistreated,” Ron Sorensen of Lake Hopatcong Marine told the commission. He said that, calculating for average rainfall and evaporation, with the water that goes out of the dam, the lake would lose level as long as rainfall is at or below average. “We’re letting out too much water, and we should be upset with this,” he said. “We’re not being fairly treated, and that’s what upsets me.”
Commission chairman and Jefferson mayor Russell Felter said the commissioners are upset, but have gone through all of the channels short of “a midnight raid to close the dam.”
“We need to straighten this out going forward,” Felter said, citing the ongoing discussion among the committee that is studying the lake’s water level management plan alongside state officials. “We’re as frustrated as you are.”
Specifically at issue are the 12 cubic feet of water per second that are let out as a minimum to keep the water flowing downstream to Lake Musconetcong. John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong examined the data going back to 1956 and said that there were numerous instances of the outflow dropping to the 5- to 7-cubic-feet-per-second range, as recently as 2004, and that it wasn’t until 2005 that a more rigid policy of keeping the flow at at least 12 cfs was followed. Like other speakers, including Steve Gebeloff of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance, Kurzman noted that Lake Musconetcong downstream is full while Lake Hopatcong is significantly down.
“I hope you don’t accept any lake water-level management plan that has 12 cfs in it,” he said. “It’s transforming [Musconetcong] creek into a river, and you have to stop it now.”
Cliff Beebe of Beebe Marina in Lake Hopatcong presented photos of the water that was leaving a low Lake Hopatcong toward a full Lake Musconetcong. “That’s our water going down there,” he said. “What the DEP is doing to us is violating the law.”
A new water-level management plan, which has been in the works for several months in response to significantly low lake levels at the start of the 2009 season, is being formed by a committee of Lake Hopatcong leaders and stakeholders and state Department of Environmental Protection employees. The committee expects to present a draft version to the commission—and then to the public—in the coming weeks.
The commission also received an update on the weed harvest, which to date had removed 1,213 tons of biomass from the lake. Felter and several members of the public commended the work of Michael Calderio, Barry Marke, Curtis Mulch, and the other employees who operated the harvesters. Because the commission has enough money from state grants to pay for it, Caldiero, Marke, and Mulch—whose employment was supposed to conclude on Friday—will remain on the payroll for an additional three weeks to help put the harvesters away and begin maintenance on the machines.
Commissioner Daniel McCarthy asked that the employees prepare a list of what needs to be done, maintenance-wise, and what parts may need to be purchased. “You can only defer maintenance for so long before it comes back to bite you,” McCarthy said. He also asked that the commission hold another special meeting, as it did last October, where the operators could give an update on how the harvest went and the status of the equipment. “[That way] we know what’s going on and can advise the officials who may be helping us [with funding,” he said.
Commissioner Joel Servoss said he had an opportunity to ride a harvester. “It seems to me that the learning curve for becoming proficient at operating these things is long and shallow,” he said. “The question of having volunteers [operate the equipment, as has been suggested] makes me nervous.”
Servoss also expressed concern that the equipment would be left outside during the winter. “These are 185,000 machines,” he said. “That’s like buying a Mazarati and leaving it out in the frost.” He suggested the commission invest in canvas tent-like structures to protect the machines and allow some work to be completed on them in the off-season.
Felter welcomed the idea, but warned, “the problem is you’ve got to have the money to do it.”
On the topic of stable funding for the commission, Felter said he had met with state senators Anthony R. Bucco and Steven V. Oroho, who were scheduled to meet with the DEP commissioner on Monday. “We’ll know more in the next few weeks,” he said. “Given the state of things, I don’t have much hope.” That said, he would be looking into a list of alternative funding sources to see what might be possible.
In other news:
• During a public comment session, Sorensen mentioned that the annual motorboat races out of Hopatcong State Park were canceled, and said he hoped the commission would encourage such activities in the future. Felter said he was disappointed that the races had been canceled, but added that they might return to Lake Forest next year.
• Kurzman pointed out that those who want to operate a motorboat on the lake need to buy a license, but that tidal waters—such as those along the Jersey Shore—don’t require a license. “All this money is only being charged to lake boaters,” he said. “Where does that money go? Why can’t we get money that’s only taxed to lake people?” Felter said he was already looking into that as one source of funding for the commission.
• Bill Doran of Mt. Arlington told the commission he was concerned about rumors that the State Police would lose funding for enforcement on Lake Hopatcong, and said even with police presence there is a “serious number of people” who don’t follow the No Wake Zone requirements, causing erosion damage, and after-sundown speed limit. “Police protection would be helpful,” he said.
• Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro, an ecological consulting firm, said that overall water quality is better this year compared to last. But he warned that he was seeing more frequent algal blooms in the northern part of the lake in the last four or five years. He also said that phosphorus levels were in compliance with total maximum daily load requirements during May and June, but that one-third of monitoring stations showed out-of-compliance readings in July. “I bring it up because that’s what your watershed projects are focusing on,” he said, adding that fertilizer, erosion, goose feces, and storm water are all possible sources of phosphorus.
• McCarthy mentioned that issues regarding Ice Eaters came up last winter, with residents concerned that their use was opening up too much of the water and making it dangerous for those who traveled on the ice. The commission agreed to make it an agenda item for the October meeting.
The next commission meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on October 18 at the Mt. Arlington Municipal Building.