10 years of excellence in water quality monitoring
By Barbara Van Reed
As with the founding of most organizations, there’s usually a triggering event, and for the Webster Lake Association it happened ten years ago, when the town enacted a bylaw to register and charge dock owners on the lake, with the money going into the general fund.
Dock owner Richard Cazeault had a basic problem with that and confronted the town’s selectmen, telling them the funds should be used to maintain the lake. Mr. Cazeault chuckles as he recounts the story. “They asked me to leave the meeting and not say another word. But it was on cable TV and people who watched it thought I had been treated shabbily.”
The next time he was on the agenda to complain about the bylaw he had 25 people with him, and the selectmen had them escorted out of the meeting, again. “They really didn’t want to hear it,” he says.
One of Mr. Cazeault’s supporters was Jane Hill, who had the idea to form a lake management organization. A hundred people met at Point Breeze Restaurant that summer and on July 4, 2002 established the Webster Lake Association (WLA) as a non-profit corporation. They voted Mr. Cazeault its president, a post he held until 2010. Scott Goulet became the vice president, Jane Hill (since deceased) the secretary, Robin Wade, treasurer, and Arlen Johnson, clerk. Gloria Ricker is the current president.
The purpose of the Corporation was to “address dock registration issues, identify problems facing the lake, and to develop a funding plan.” The WLA began working with the state representatives and various state agencies to address sediment control issues that contributed to the invasive weed problem that threatened the lake. According to WLA history notes, the ”effort included obtaining the $4.5 million grant promised to the town five years before for a comprehensive sediment control program for the Lake. At the end of the summer, Governor Swift’s office promised to fund the project. By the end of the year, the incoming Governor (Romney) cut the appropriation.”
“We had a great bunch of people who said, ’let’s do something about the lake,’ but we had no clue about lake management, no money, and no expertise,” said Mr. Cazeault. The group made many phone calls and visited with other lake associations to get some ideas as to how to approach their water quality management task.
The first problem they wanted to tackle was the visible overabundance of invasive weeds that were clogging parts of the lake. They concluded they’d be waiting in vain for the town, state, or federal government to come up with any money, and so to get things rolling they formed three committees, to manage membership, funding, and environmental issues.
Another immediate WLA goal was to amend the dock bylaw so that any money collected would go to into a weed treatment fund. They succeeded, “and once that amendment passed, interest in dock registration disappeared,” said Mr. Cazeault.
The fundraising committee raised enough money, $25,000, to hire a consultant to evaluate the Lake and look at the weed population and water quality, setting a benchmark with which to start the cleanup.
Over the years, the group became water quality management experts. In 2005, the WLA Water Quality Monitoring Program was officially recognized by the State and Federal Governments, and they have trained other groups, including the French River Connection, how to do water testing as well. “We have some really smart people in the organization.” The water quality committee is headed up by Paul Laframboisse.
“Jane used to say ‘no lake is an island,’ and so we looked at expanding our role to include lake inflows and outflows, the entire watershed area. There was some controversy over that,” said Mr. Cazeault, explaining that water quality does affect the entire community, and so they went ahead with it.
They funded some basic research showing the devastating impact of phosphates on the Lake, feeding the most invasive weed species: Eurasian milfoil, variable milfoil and fanwort. In another round of activism, the group lobbied for a ban on phosphate fertilizers and in 2007 Webster became the first community in the state to ban their use. However, the State Attorney General denied the bylaw, claiming that it violated state and federal constitutions. The WLA wrote back: phosphates are a clear and present danger, and the constitution also states that if the government will not protect a community, we can do it ourselves. The Attorney General retracted its denial, allowing a ban on the use of phosphates, but not their sale.
The WLA looked into stormwater issues as well. A study was done in the 90s that showed Webster Lake had 40 drain pipes pouring stormwater into the water, carrying pollutants like phosphates and oils. The group didn’t have the resources to address the stormwater runoff, but found a way to begin the process when then-State Representative Paul Kujawski arranged a meeting with the EPA in Boston. That resulted in a grant of $168,000 a year for five years, a total of $840,000, until 2008, when the economy took its nosedive. The WLA was able to clean up the three most serious inflows from large pipes at Union Point (runoff from I-395), Colonial Park and Memorial Beach.
Lake management is a new science, taught in colleges, encompassing water quality, weed management, and stormwater runoff. The WLA has experts in all three areas, said Mr. Cazeault. A registered professional engineer by education and trade, he jokes he has also earned a Masters in Lake Management from the Webster Lake Association.
How well has the WLA succeeded in its lake management efforts? Mr. Cazeault illustrated it this way. He’s a swimmer and snorkeler, and when he bought his property in 1983 he saw very little in the way of invasive species in his cove, and found just 2-3 inches of sediment at the bottom. By 2002, the cove was filled with invasive species, right to the surface, and he could no longer swim there. There was 18 inches of sediment.
Treatment of that cove began in 2005 and continued to 2012. Today, the cove is clear of invasives and the sediment level has dropped to 4 or 5 inches, a reduction he attributes to the natural lake water flow.
The WLA strategy of treating weeds in trouble spots and high traffic, high density areas has worked very well. Testing is done in the same GPS locations by biologists using polarized glasses with which they can see the bottom of the lake, TV cameras, and rakes dropped down to take samples.
The Webster Lake Association today has 600 individual members and 100 business supporters. Anyone may join, you do not have to own not lakefront property, and all meetings are open to the public. Five years after its founding, the WLA was declared a public charity because of its involvement with education, including the Webster Education Foundation. Half of the $100,000 annual budget goes to lake water testing and management, the balance to fundraising, operating expenses, and educational programs.
Mr. Cazeault is a wonderful storyteller. If you have the opportunity, ask him to tell you the history of the WLA in his own words. The public is invited to the official celebration at Point Breeze Restaurant on August 14 at 7 p.m. Perhaps you can catch up with him there.
- Wednesday, 08 August 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor