Water-Level Management Committee Appointed, Your Input Sought

After months of delays, the state has appointed a combination of officials and residents to a committee that will review water-level management on Lake Hopatcong. The committee, named by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Watershed Management, has been in the works since a storm of controversy swirled during the five-year drawdown last spring.  Residents accused the state of mismanaging the dam at the southern end of the lake, which—combined with the drier-than-normal winter season—led to water levels several feet below normal at the start of the 2009 season. In response to that, a collection of local businesses sued the state, alleging mismanagement that resulted in a loss of revenue, and broad group of hundreds of residents organized the Lake Hopatcong Alliance to lobby on behalf of the lake community in the future.  Once a wet June replenished the water levels, the business owners involved with the lawsuit offered to drop the suit in exchange for representation on the water-level management committee.  For months, the committee was on hold as state officials, specifically Lawrence Baier, the DEP’s former representative on the Lake Hopatcong Commission, reported that nothing could move forward until the lawsuit was resolved.  Business owners said they were willing to talk and waiting on the state. Whatever the hold up, it seems to have been resolved, as the citizens' advisory committee has been named.  Baier said the aim was to have a wide collection of voices without creating a group that is too big to accomplish anything.  The group includes representatives from the Lake Hopatcong Commission (Arthur Ondish), from the towns around the lake (David Gedicke, Seth Katz, William Doran, Ron Sorensen), from Lake Musconetcong (Cliff Lundin and Beth Styler Barry), and rom the Lake Hopatcong Alliance (Ray Fernandez), all working with state representatives to review the water-level management scheme for Lake Hopatcong.  The group includes several marina owners, a segment of the populace that has been particularly vocal about the issue. Daniel McCarthy, a member of the Lake Hopatcong Commission, has stressed at past commission meetings that it might be more of an effort to get the already existing water-level management plan to be appropriately followed—something that didn’t happen last December—than to significantly change the plan itself. But Ron Sorensen, owner of Lake Hopatcong Marine and the Jefferson Township representative on the committee, said he’s going to approach the situation by “shooting for the moon.” “My own personal opinion is that we leave it where it is, and whatever rainfall we get can go over,” he said. “We don’t need drawdowns.  Period.   Leave it up at the full height, and this way we always have whatever water is here.  Let nature deal with nature.  People will say that there will be damage to the docks, but usually more damage happens because the mud at the bottom of the pilings is exposed and freezes, squeezing the pilings and throwing them.  And if you’re in a deep area, you use bubblers anyway. At the end of the day, more people would get more use out of the lake if we left it at its natural level all of the time.” Sorensen pointed out that the dam release of water this autumn for the annual drawdown has already been mismanaged, with too much water being let out too quickly—a particular issue during a year when the autumn has been particularly warm, and more people would be likely to go out and use the lake. “There needs to be some accountability,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to play the cop.”  Specifically, Sorensen is going to request that one person with authority be appointed to manage the dam, so residents don’t have to work through the layers of Trenton bureaucracy when issues come up. He and others asked that any residents with ideas, or questions for the committee should email him—ronsandbar@optonline.net—to have those thoughts expressed when the committee first gathers on January 12.  A group of state representatives have already held internal meetings to get up to speed. "During the first meeting, DEP staff from various programs will share information concerning resource management needs and concerns, both in Lake Hopatcong and downstream in the Musconetcong River," Baier said. "These conditions form the basis for the water-level management plan.  We will then move on to determine how to manage the lake to meet these resource concerns while maximizing the benefit to the residents.  My guess is that this will be more of an adjustment to the existing plan than a total rewrite, but we'll see where it takes us."

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