Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Paying more attention to health of local lakes

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More and more attention is being paid to controlling native and invasive aquatic vegetation in our lakes these days (calling them weeds is out nowadays, those green plants growing in and choking our lakes are now called aquatic vegetation). Some think that lowering our lake levels in the winter to freeze and kill them is the way to go. That is a controversial subject, and others wonder if we are accomplishing anything by lowering the lake levels other than protecting people's docks and other property.

And what about the cyanobacteria stuff that showed up in Stockbridge Bowl last year and Pontoosuc Lake this year? Where did that come from? What is causing it?

I don't think anyone has the perfect solution for controlling excessive vegetation growth and bacteria in our lakes, but we need to do something. Inaction is not an option, for we could lose these beautiful bodies of open water. We need to educate ourselves and pay more attention to the health of our lakes. Here are a few opportunities:

LAPA-West Symposium

The Lakes and Ponds Association will be having a symposium on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Zion Lutheran Church, 74 First St. in Pittsfield. There will be a significant focus on cyanobacteria (blue green algae) which is a potential threat to all our lakes and can pose a serious health threat to all lake users, especially children and pets. It made the local news last fall when a bloom in Stockbridge Bowl forced the relocation of the 2018 Josh Billings RunAground paddling leg.

All lake association members, Conservation Commission members, other municipal officials and anyone else with an interest in protecting and improving our lakes are invited.

According to the event, the objectives of the cyanobacteria presentations are to provide background needed for lake managers on:

— The basics of what it is and what are the risks.

— How to test for it?

— How to prevent and/or treat a bloom?

— What precautions must be taken to avoid risks to lake users without over-reacting and needlessly restricting access to our lake resources.

— What federal, state and local agencies are involved, what regulations are in place and how can local lake managers get help.

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Other symposium topics, many of which are follow-ups to previous symposium presentations, are:

— Drawdown effectiveness and risks.

— Increased State funding for our lakes and ponds.

— Improved coordination among the EOEEA regulatory agencies.

— Guidance from the DFW on maintaining and improving healthy fisheries.

Registration with a light breakfast starts at 8:15. Tours of the USEPA CMC mobile laboratory will be conducted after adjournment at 1. This facility is used to provide on-site trainings on the Cyanobacteria Monitoring Collaborative program to lake associations, state water quality managers and staff, drinking water suppliers, NGOs, school systems, private research entities and the like. Trainings and/or demonstrations of the program can be provided on request. The mobile lab provides a platform where individuals can participate in collecting and analyzing samples adjacent to the waterbody and become familiar with the equipment, steps and protocols used for understanding and managing harmful cyanobacteria and blooms. The mobile lab has been used to teach hundreds of individuals throughout New England how to appropriately collect and identify samples for cyanobacteria analysis.

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The symposium, which is free, is sponsored by the LAPA West member associations. Invited exhibitors include state agencies with responsibilities for lake management and contractors who work on our lakes.

There will be opportunities to network with experts in lake ecology and management, and with other lake advocates. Bring lake plants you want identified. Any other questions you have specific to your lake can be raised with the experts and other attendees during the presentation breaks.

You are asked to let them know if you are planning to attend. Also please indicate whether you will be staying after the adjournment to tour the CMC Mobile lab.

Lake Winter Drawdowns

An article in Volume 64, Issue 8 of "Freshwater Biology," which came out in June of this year and dealt with annual winter drawdowns, might be of interest to local conservation commissions, lake and pond associations, anglers and the general public. The 15-page article, entitled "Annual winter water level drawdowns limit shallow-water mussel densities in small lakes" detailed the findings of a two-year study (2015 and 2017) of 13 western and central Massachusetts lakes. The nine lakes studied in the Berkshires were the following: Onota Lake, Ashmere Lake, Richmond Pond, Stockbridge Bowl, Goose Pond, Greenwater Pond, Lake Garfield, Lake Buel and Otis Reservoir.

The report provides evidence that annual winter water level drawdown regimes in lakes constrain mussel distributions below drawdown exposure zones during normal water levels in addition to causing stranding and mortality soon after drawdown exposure.

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In addressing the drawdown effects on mussel distribution, density and size, the report provides evidence that they negatively impact surface and buried mussel densities in areas annually exposed during winter, even though these areas remain submerged from spring to autumn. Winter drawdowns also negatively affect buried mussel size.

Interestingly, the study provided evidence that mussel mortality did not correlate with drawdown rates. They found no difference in mussel mortality in experimental dewatering rates of four centimeters a day verses eight cm per day.

The study concluded that "given that the documented ecosystem services mussel populations provide, including biofiltration, water column and sediment nutrient coupling, and habitat structure for macroinvertebrates and primary producers, the constraint of mussels deeper than the drawdown exposure zone may reduce these ecosystem services in the exposure zone. The extent of these potential functional losses relative to the whole lake ecosystems may depend on winter drawdown regime character (e.g. magnitude, rate, timing, frequency) relative to mussel population density-depth distribution and population size."

Further research to examine the extent of potential ecosystem function loss in annual winter drawdown regime was encouraged. Personally, I would like to see a study done to see what, if any, effects the herbicides that we are annually putting into our lakes are having on the mussels and other crustaceans.

So, why do we care about freshwater mussels? Well, according to MassWildlife, more mussels mean cleaner water. They are nature's great living water purifiers. They feed by using siphons to filter small organic particles, such as bacteria, plankton, algae and detritus, out of the water. This filtration doesn't just take nutritious bits out of the water for the mussels to eat, it also takes floating debris like silt and algae out of the water, making the water cleaner for everyone.

One mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water moving over it in a single day. We need them and should take care to see that we have healthy populations of them in our waters.

Map, Compass and Survival course

The free course will be offered by MassWildlife on Oct. 12 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the DCR Visitor Center, 740 South St. in Pittsfield. This course is not recommended for students less than 12 years of age.

Students will spend a lot of time outside in the woods practicing map and compass skills. MassWildlife recommends wearing comfortable footwear (i.e. hiking or running shoes), long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and bright outer clothing. Students should also carry insect repellent, sunscreen and water with them while in the woods and, if available, a whistle.

Timberdoodle time

Woodcock (also known as timberdoodle) hunting season opens on Thursday and runs through Nov. 23. The daily bag limit is three and the possession limit is nine. The woodcock is a migratory bird, so hunters must register with the Harvest Information Program each calendar year. Waterfowl stamps are not required, nor is the use of nontoxic shot when hunting woodcock.

For more information on the regulations, visit


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