The plans of local officials to make Lake Neatahwanta swimmable again found an encouraging response from an audience old enough to remember when they could swim in the lake.
Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward and Granby Town Supervisor Ed Williamson, flanked by officials and members of the lake’s current advocacy group, outlined aggressive goals that could see the cleanup begin this summer.
Lake Neatahwanta, once a summertime beach playground, is now unsafe to swim in. The lake’s bottom is rising as more and more sediment rushes in from the three streams that feed it and falls to the floor. The shallower lake is warmer. The warmth, combined with the fecal wastes of scores of geese, has fostered the spread of blue-green algae, which can make people sick or even kill them.
The problem has also hurt the lake’s longtime reputation as a fine spot for fishermen.
An audience made up mostly of local officials and senior citizens offered advice to the group, as they reminisced about their days at the beach.
“We had a nice beach. People swam,” said Fanny Knapp, whose Granby farm forms 900 feet of the south shore of the lake. Others remembered seeing their picture in the newspaper of them standing in the lake’s water, of fishing for bullhead, or of being baptized in the lake.
Knapp, who has studied the lake’s issues for decades, said that the problem began in the 1960s when the city drilled a water well into the underground springs that fed and cleaned the lake. The federal government forced the city to abandon the well in the 1980s because it had higher-than-acceptable levels of naturally-occurring barium in the water.
Removing the sediment from the lake bottom will reopen the springs, she said.
Woodward said a non-profit group should be formed to raise money from the public for the cleanup effort.
He said a dredging machine could be bought for about $100,000. It would collect and remove sediment from the lake bottom and pipe it into huge tubes that would allow the lake water to seep back out. The sediment would then be trucked away.
Officials think the lake is only about 8 feet deep at its deepest point now. It used to be 16 feet deep.
A representative for State Senator Patty Ritchie said the state Legislature put aside $275,000 for the lake cleanup and for the removal of water chestnuts from county waterways. Soil and Water Conservation District Manager John DeHollander said that last year’s water chestnut effort cost about $50,000. However, it’s not clear how the money was split up in the Legislature’s funding bill.
Williamson said the town would focus on cleaning the three streams that flow into the lake, to keep sediment out of the lake.
Woodward and Williamson said the first step in their plan was to hold the public meeting and try to get community support for the idea. Next, they’ll determine whether they can use an existing non-profit, such as the current lake reclamation committee, or will have to set up a new one to raise funds for the cleanup.
Woodward said the largest obstacle to a summer start will be meeting the state’s deadlines and satisfying their paperwork demands. But if that happens, he said, there will be rapid progress.
“It will probably take ten years to get that lake back, but after the first year, you’ll see a tremendous difference,” he said.