Kerry Kirk Pflugh, center, reports on the weed harvesting program at the Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting.

Water level and weed harvesting hot topics at LHC meeting Monday

ROXBURY – The 2015 weed harvesting program on Lake Hopatcong will be “a bare bones program,” said Kerry Kirk Pflugh, commissioner representing the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection at Monday’s Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting.

Pflugh was matter-of-fact in her report to the commission about the weed harvest season reporting the state can only fund the actual work in the lake for a short time and would not be able to cover major equipment repairs that might occur or new equipment. According to Pflugh the season will begin in June and end in mid August.

“This program is always at risk for not being funded and supported,” said Pflugh.

According to Dan Bello, environmental specialist with DEP, the harvesting equipment will be put into the lake on June 1 and the harvesting will begin on or about

Dan Bello shows a map of the weed harvesting locations for 2015.
Dan Bello shows a map of the weed harvesting locations for 2015.

June 5. The program will end 10 weeks later, sometime in mid August.

Three machines will be used immediately, said Bello, operated by two full time employees and one seasonal employee. Bello said he is looking to hire a fourth operator. The harvesting will take place in two specific areas of the lake. River Styx and Crescent Cove in Hopatcong will be the first areas covered. From there the harvesting will take place in the south end of the lake through the Landing Channel. Bello is unsure if there will be enough time to get to any other part of the lake.

“It’s going to be a difficult season, I’ll be honest,” said Bello. “We know we’re not going to get the whole lake done.”

According to Pflugh the $155,000 2016 budget still needs to be passed by the legislator and signed by the governor but is confident the program will be funded.

Pflugh went on to say that the commission, along with the lake community, should look into alternative funding for the weed harvesting program.

“This experience is not unique, not new. There are national models of how lakes survive without state funding,” she said mentioning the success of the Lake George Association.

A meeting between the four local mayors and county officials is scheduled for June 1 to figure out a strategy for future funding, said Pflugh.

In the public portion of the meeting, local marina owners Ray Fernandez from Bridge Marina and Ron Sorensen from Lake Hopatcong Marine both voiced concern over the low water level in the lake. At present, the water level measures 7.88’ at the dam, well below the normal 9 feet. With little rain since the ice melt in early April, the lake has not recovered from the annual 26-inch drawdown and in accordance with the Water Level Management Plan (written in 2011 and managed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife) the minimum amount of water (12 cubic feet per second) is still flowing from the lake into the Musconetcong River.

Ray Fernandez speaks at the Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting.
Ray Fernandez speaks at the Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting.

“Drawdowns are not good for our lake,” said Fernandez, asking the commission if at any time it would consider asking the state to stop drawdowns. “If this were a five-foot drawdown (done every five years) we would be four feet below,” he added.

Sorensen said that half of the boat slips at his marinas are “unusable.”

“People are looking for information. They don’t understand why this is happening,” he said asking that the Water Level Management Plan Committee reconvene together with DEP to revisit the plan.

Sorensen sees the solution as simple.

“Leave the water at the top of the dam. When it rains it spills over. When it doesn’t (rain) it (the water) stays in the lake,” he said, adding that because of the water management plan “every year water level in the lake seems to be an issue.”

Both Pflugh and commission Chairman Russ Felter agree that the plan needs to be revisited.

“I think the issues that you and Ray are addressing of drawdowns are extremely important issues,” said Pflugh.

Commissioner Fred Steinbaum questioned why the flow hasn’t been reduced, which, according to the plan, is a valid reason if rainfall is below average. According to Pflugh, she did make a request to the state to reduce the outflow but low rainfall is just one of a number of factors taken into account to change the water management plan. Fish and Wildlife denied her request and the outflow will remain at 12 cfs she said.

IN OTHER NEWS

Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro reported that the water quality monitoring report from 2014 is complete and has been sent to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation. He also reported that the work being done using funding from the 319(h) grant, which expires in September, will include water sampling at certain beaches to try to predict blue-green algae blooms, something that became problematic during the warmer days of August last year.

Earl Riley, president of the Lake Musconetcong Regional Planning Board, asked the commission for permission to slightly alter the on-loan weed harvester by adding a removable small metal plate to protect the operator’s feet. The request was approved. Riley also presented the commission with a daily maintenance report schedule to be presented to the commission at its monthly meetings.

The next Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 15 at the Hopatcong Senior Center. The meeting begins at 7pm.

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