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Saving Mamanasco Lake: Improvement Plan Includes Projects To Quell Erosion, Will Depend On Town Funding

Mamanasco Lake is a town resource that may be in trouble environmentally -- the Mamanasco Lake Improvement Fund hopes to put a stop to that.

The ruins of an old mill lie just below the dam at Mamanasco Lake. Native Americans once gathered nearby in what is now Richardson Park. Historical homes dot its shores.

Mamanasco Lake has a lot of stories to tell, but the one that truly lives on is told by the Ridgefield residents who to this day swim there, canoe there, fish there and live there.

And the Mamanasco Lake Improvement Fund hopes to allow that history to continue and keep the lake healthy enough for the residents of Ridgefield to enjoy.

“There’s a lot of history at this lake,” said MLIF board member Kitty Fischer as she stood by the shore Wednesday afternoon. “The way we feel at the Improvement Fund is that we’re protecting this lake for the town.”

For several years now, the MLIF has collected private donations as well as funds from the town that it contributes to projects preventing the environmental degradation of the lake. The funds for these projects recently approved by the Board of Finance and to be decided by town voters in the capital budget amount to $35 thousand for 2011-12.

Mamanasco Lake’s actual ownership is uncertain, but the town owns the largest amount of shoreline – other parts of it belong to private homeowners, a point of contention that had the finance board voting 3-2 to approve the funds.

The 96-acre lake collects water from over 530 acres of developed and wooded land, a watershed that extends mostly to the southwest of the lake across Mamanasco Rd. and Old Sib Rd.

And one of the biggest issues with this watershed is that, as water flows quickly downhill, it takes with it large amounts of sediment and nutrients that end up in the lake.

This can pose a problem. Parts of the lake look very different than they did even a couple years ago.

“If we didn’t do the kinds of things we’re doing, this lake would become a marsh,” said environmental engineer Tessa Jucaite, also with the MLIF board. Deltas have formed along Mamanasco Rd., and the land continues to encroach onto lake waters.

In addition to large catch basins emptied of sediment once or twice a year by the Highway Department, two major projects are planned to improve storm water drainage.

The first includes large “scour holes” at five different outfalls on the southwest side of the lake – these are intended to slow the water velocity as it flows into the lake, thus allowing for less erosion of sediment.

Farther uphill, the MLIF, with help from the Highway Department, plans to create riprap inlets also for the purpose of slowing the water down. By doing this and by increasing the vegetation in the areas of fast-moving water, Jucaite said, major sedimentation of the lake can be remedied.

“We’re doing the things we can do to help,” Jucaite said. “This is pretty much the minimum we can do.”

If sedimentation reaches a certain level, one of the only options that would remain would be to dredge the whole lakebed, a project that can cost as much as one million dollars – the smaller projects, though not perfect, are the least intrusive and costly, Jucaite said.

Another issue is nutrification, or the introduction of too many nutrients from the surrounding area. This can lead to large amounts of algae in the water that, in some years, has prevented use of the lake.

An influx of phosphorous, for instance, in some cases a derivative of fertilizers, is a main concern, Jucaite said, and the lake must be treated with chemicals such as allum to break down the resulting algae, which in turn also contributes to more sedimentation.

Another battle the MLIF is fighting is that against the invasive species Eurasian watermilfoil, a plant that is very difficult to control once it’s established in a body of water.

The MLIF focuses on education, as well, especially for residents within the watershed whose practices on their own properties affect what happens to the lake.

“This is a town resource, a beautiful town resource, and it’s used by the people of the town, not just by the people around the lake,” Fischer said. “And we want to maintain it for perpetuity – it’s a wonderful resource.”

ChrisMcQuilkin April 08, 2011 at 03:53 PM
I'm not sure we as a town can afford to spend what is actually $40,000 on Mamanasco Lake this year. I love the lake, but this year other areas of the town are being drastically scaled back. I don't recall the town budget or the school budget ever being lower since I've lived here. That $40,000 could instead be used to repave another stretch of our potholed roads after this winter's miserable weather. Or that money could help towards reinstating one of our soon-to-be-fired teachers. Or that money could simply be left in the taxpayer's pockets during these difficult economic times. I don't think mud in a lake can be our priority this year. I plan to vote no on this item at the annual town meeting.
Leoj April 08, 2011 at 05:27 PM
How much does every home owner on the lake contribute each year to preserve what is primarily their personal resource that directly impacts their property values?
Roger Sherman April 08, 2011 at 06:15 PM
So the town has to pay for other peoples vanity? From the article "An influx of phosphorous, for instance, in some cases a derivative of fertilizers, is a main concern, Jucaite said, and the lake must be treated with chemicals such as allum to break down the resulting algae, which in turn also contributes to more sedimentation" So their nice looking lawns and overflowing septic systems are eventually going to cost the town a million dollars. Richardson Park is there, but is there really town access? I thought all of the swimming beaches are private? Is it truly a public resource?
Jennifer DiLaura May 17, 2011 at 01:53 PM
A beach club membership is available to people both inside and outside the watershed area. The lake itself is open to anyone for fishing and boating, so yes, it is truly a public resource - and a beautiful one at that.
WantToSwim May 17, 2011 at 03:08 PM
I see it costs $195 for a family within the Mamanasco watershed area to join the beach club. And it costs $295 for a family outside the watershed area. Seeing that all Ridgefield taxpayers are contributing so much money to the lake each year to combat the silt and erosion issues, would the beach club consider lowering the $295 membership cost for the rest of Ridgefield?

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