The Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting on Monday was packed with residents from around the lake and downstream, and although opinions and perspectives varied, nearly all who spoke echoed two sentiments: a thankfulness that the state was following the recently redrafted water-level management plan, and a desperate hope for rainfall. “I want to stress that we are in extreme conditions here,” said Kerry Kirk Pflugh, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection representative on the commission, after explaining why the state reduced the outflow at the Lake Hopatcong dam from 12 cubic feet per second down to 8.2 cubic feet per second late last week. Monitored conditions downstream allowed for the reduction, as did the recent weather history—precipitation for the first three months of the year was only 5.82 inches total. Kirk Pflugh said that would be as low as the outflow would go, but told those in attendance at the Roxbury Municipal Building that it was “a very big decision” to make the change. Lisa Barno of the Division of Fish and Wildlife said the group would closely monitor conditions and make any changes if necessary. “We will try to hold out [at 8.2 cfs] as long as we can,” she said. Several residents applauded the move, though a group of speakers from the Musconetcong Watershed Association expressed concern about the well being of the downstream ecosystem. “I’m concerned about the lower water levels and higher temperatures,” said Cinny MacGonagle of Bethlehem Township. “I hope you’ll be able to return to 12 cfs as soon as possible.” Bill Leavens of the Musconetcong River Management Council showed the commission a chart of the Musconetcong River discharge near Bloomsbury, and pointed out that it is currently far below the 92-year median. “If you look at the trend, it’s not good,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, put your hands together and pray for rain.” Those from the Lake Hopatcong area were mixed in their opinions. Most expressed gratitude for the change in outflow, even if minor, for saving what water it can. But the discussion turned to the question of the annual winter drawdown, and doubt over whether it should continue. “It always seemed like a good idea to me,” said Fred Steinbaum of Hopatcong. “But I wonder if you should reconsider it.” Steinbaum pointed out that dock work can now be done with higher water levels, and suggested that keeping the lake full would reduce the worry and need for rain this time of year. Ron Sorensen of Lake Hopatcong Marine agreed. “Weather patterns are changing, and we need to look at this differently,” he said. “Leave the lake at the top of the dam.” Kirk Pflugh said the issue was not at a consensus when the newest water-level management plan was created, and that the citizens’ advisory committee would readdress the idea when it meets ahead of the drawdown this fall. Commissioner Dan McCarthy of Hopatcong said that a reason for the drawdown in the past has been to protect lake structures from ice surges. And Tim Clancy warned that making a change to the plan could backfire. “Let’s not base decisions on an outlier year,” he said, adding that there are advantages to the weed situation by dropping the water level in the winter. “Remember that outliers from the other perspective can be just as harmful.” Donna Macalle-Holly, the commission’s administrator, backed that comment up with statistics from recent years. She cited a 48-hour period when the lake went up .83 feet in March of 2010, and the 12-day period in 2011 when the lake rose 2.5 feet. “Imagine if the lake wasn’t lowered [ahead of that], what kind of conditions we would have been in,” she said. Still, many in attendance seemed frustrated by the lack of rain, which has the lake nearly 2 feet below the dam height. “I can’t even rent a boat slip because of the level of the lake,” said Cliff Beebe of Beebe Marina in Lake Hopatcong. “Leave Lake Hopatcong alone.” John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong thought action should have been taken earlier. “I appreciate that they lowered it to 8.2 [cfs], but I don’t understand why we can’t do it sooner.” Commission chairman and Jefferson mayor Russ Felter thanked the public for their input. “I’d like to thank everyone for coming out,” he said. “There was some good dialogue, and I appreciate it.” In other news: • Macalle-Holly and the commission were honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with a 2012 Environmental Quality Award, the highest award presented to the public by the EPA. “The work I do is on behalf of all of you and Lake Hopatcong,” Macalle-Holly said. “Because of all of our love for the lake and protecting its natural resources. It’s really an honor, thank you.”• Construction of the rain garden at Hopatcong State Park, funded through grant money secured by the commission, is expected to begin soon, with the aim of completion by Memorial Day weekend.• Macalle-Holly pointed out that Earth Day is approaching, and that Hopatcong and Roxbury have already had their town clean-up days. Jefferson’s is scheduled for April 28, and residents with any questions can contact the Jefferson Department of Public Works.• Steve Sher of Mt. Arlington expressed concern over a proposed increase in floating docks at Lee’s County Park. “It seems somewhat onerous to me,” he said, adding that “I don’t think it’s going to have a positive impact” on the environment or the other marinas around the lake.• Al Riha of Hopatcong said he’d like to see the Lake Hopatcong Commission meetings better advertised by the towns. “We’ve got to get more people involved,” he said.• Felter said the weed harvest situation was still in flux as the state looks to hire workers to run the harvesters. The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, May 21 at the Roxbury Municipal Building.