DAM SAFETY

The Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies (in this case, the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, DEEP), require dam owners to conduct dam inspections on at least a quarterly frequency, more often when unusual and threatening water levels occur due to excessive precipitation. Specific maintenance tasks are also required on an as-needed basis, including clearing the spillway of debris, clearing the intake trash rack, correcting erosion around the spillway and other structures, eliminating burrowing animals, maintaining good grass cover, mowing the embankments, and exercising/greasing the gate valve.

The Town of Stafford, the owner of the Staffordville Lake dam, has found it difficult, even impossible, to meet these requirements, given budget and personnel restrictions. Yet, the dam is rated as Hazard Class C, indicating the highest hazard potential to life and property should the dam breach. You might recall that the dam needed emergency repair a few years ago, when scour on the upstream side of the dam created a dangerous situation allowing water to eject through the masonry face of the dam, compromising its stability. The scour situation had not been identified because no dam inspections were being carried out.

Recognizing the need for a formal dam and lake management program, Staffordville Lake Association (SLA) developed Best Management Practice (BMP) documents for Staffordville lake and dam, and proposed to the Town’s Board of Selectmen that the BMPs be adopted by the Town and implemented by an all-volunteer group trained by the DEEP. The DEEP has endorsed the proposed program, and in fact considers it to be a worthy model for other towns that also have not been meeting the regulatory requirements.

In 2012, First Selectmen Richard Shuck announced that the Town would adopt and implement the dam and lake management program. In November 2013 the Town of Stafford Dam & Lake Management Advisory Committee was officially town-sanctioned by the Board of Selectmen with a start date of January 2014.

WATER QUALITY

Periodic sampling and testing of water from Staffordville Lake and its three main tributary brooks has been ongoing by SLA since 1996. The purpose of this water quality monitoring program has been to act as a warning system for any threats to water quality, and to identify any actual declines in water quality.

The water quality monitoring program targets the concern generally shared by all unnatural (dam-impounded) lakes like Staffordville Lake, i.e., the “aging process” known as eutrophication. By this process, a lake increasingly accumulates organic matter (dead algae and plants) in bottom muds every year following the growing season. As the organic matter decomposes on the bottom, fertile sediment that contains high levels of plant nutrients, especially phosphate, is created. During the following Spring and Summer growing season, these nutrients pour out of the bottom sediments into the lake water and stimulate growth of floating algae, resulting in brown, cloudy, unattractive, water conditions. At the same time, the increasingly fertile bottom is able to support a larger rooted-weed growth than the previous year. With each passing year, there is a downward spiral of water quality and aesthetics, and expansion of the weed beds, unless the lake is “managed”.

SLA’s water quality monitoring program has documented episodes of very poor water quality in the form of high levels of floating algae causing very turbid brown water. This condition is monitored and measured by SLA by means of “Secchi Disk” tests performed about weekly through the Spring and Summer each year. The Secchi Disk is used to measure the clarity (i.e., transparency) of the lake water – the lower the transparency (or in other words, the higher the turbidity) of the water, the higher the floating algae levels. While the Secchi Disk tests provide scientific measurements reflecting the algae levels, which can be used to support decision-making, most lake residents are well aware of decreasing lake clarity over the years just from their own visual observations.

The water quality monitoring program also involves chemical tests of water from the lake and tributary brooks, for nutrient levels and oxygen content. In recent years, the tests have demonstrated high level influxes of nutrients to the lake water from the bottom sediments, a troubling sign of advancing age (or eutrophication). Related to this, oxygen levels in the deepest, coolest, water in the lake have been very low, as a consequence of the decay of plant matter in the sediments (which uses up oxygen). Low oxygen levels cannot support many of our lake’s desirable fish species.

One encouraging finding of the water quality monitoring program is that the tributary brooks do not contribute excess amounts of nutrients to the lake, hence human activities in the watershed so far have not had a negative impact on water quality.

The water quality monitoring program has provided ample warning of threats to our lake’s health, and has even demonstrated actual declines in water quality. There was a need for a formal lake management program to counteract the negative impacts on the lake.  The Staffordville Lake Association was instrumental in the implementation of the Town of Stafford's Dam & Lake Management Advisory Committee, which went into effect in January 2014. The “Dam & Lake Management Program” sets out Best Management Practices for reducing and even reversing the expansion of weed beds and consequently the influx of nutrients and decline of water quality, mainly through winter drawdowns of the lake level.

WEED CONTROL

Politics of Weeds - The Opinion of Dennis Waslenchuk

An opinion shared by many others around the lake.