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Lake Rescue: Five Years After Tropical Storm Irene

Editor’s Note: During fall 2016, the Watershed Management Division revisited places hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. One such area was the Black River corridor through the towns of Plymouth and Ludlow. This is the first of three posts celebrating five years of hard work by local and State partners to improve the resilience of waterways in the Black River/Lake Rescue watershed.

The effects from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 saw the Black River, Round Pond, and Lake Rescue inundated with extreme high water levels and chock full of nutrient rich eroded sediment. The following spring witnessed shallowing of coves and bays due to settled sediment, and the first re-emergence of Eurasian milfoil showing up in 2013. This fast growing invasive aquatic plant is capable of turning shallow portions of the lake into a thick vegetated mass. The churning waters and nutrient rich sediments created a perfect medium for the milfoil to spread throughout Round Pond and Lake Rescue; meanwhile the thick sediment layer made early detection challenging.

With their previous successes ridding the Lakes of Eurasian milfoil, the Lake Rescue Association (LRA) jumped to action to stop an infestation. LRA is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization that promotes water safety, environmental education, improved water quality, and resolution of pertinent matters. They work to protect the watersheds of Round Pond and Lakes Rescue and Pauline located along Vermont Route 100. The first Eurasian milfoil plants were found in Lake Rescue in 1998. Since 1998 LRA implemented a successful program of monitoring the lake and hand pulling plants via divers and snorkel. This was backed with outreach and education to stop Eurasian milfoil spread, and inspection of boats entering the lakes.

lake-rescue-inundated

Lake Rescue was inundated by sediment during and after Tropical Storm Irene. Image by Mansfield Heliflight.

The heavy sediment load in Round Pond and Lake Rescue made monitoring difficult during the subsequent years following Tropical Storm Irene. By 2015, despite the yearly hand pulling of plants, there was a significant increase in milfoil plants in Lake Rescue, and a labeled “hot spot” of growth in Round Pond. This prompted a meeting between LRA and the aquatic species specialist with the VT Agency of Natural Resources to discuss formulating a 5-year strategic plan to combat milfoil in Lake Rescue. During the discussions, it was agreed that hand pulling of plants should continue, and to consider suction-pulling milfoil plants in 2016 should early dives find concentrated growth in the hot spots of Round Pond. Subsequently, LRA secured a state permit to allow for suction harvesting, and a permit to close access to the lake.

According to LRA past-president Mary Rita Batesole, “The milfoil divers did an excellent job! We seem to have the milfoil under control and did not do any suction harvesting.  We . . . did obtain a no boating area permit where we had the heaviest concentration of milfoil so the boats would not chop it off and spread it.  That seemed to work well.  We will continue with the milfoil pulling program in 2017 with the divers coming on a regular basis beginning in May.”

Since Tropical Storm Irene, LRA has also worked to mitigate further sediment transfer to Lake Rescue by addressing sources of the eroded sediment. Buffalo Brook is part of the watershed for Lake Rescue. In 2015 LRA received an Ecosystem Restoration Program grant from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The aim was to execute drainage improvements on forest roads and trails in the Buffalo Brook watershed upstream of Camp Plymouth State Park. Drainage was improved through the following measures: nine broad-based dips, 35 water bars, and one pole culvert were installed over 4,300 linear feet of roads and trails. Those improvements promoted diversion of water off the trails and onto stable, vegetated side slopes where storm water can infiltrate, enabling sediment to be filtered out and the storm water to slowly reenter the water cycle.

With these erosion prevention measures, in addition to informing homeowners of best practices and harvesting Eurasian milfoil, the Lake Rescue Association is making great strides toward improving water quality and reducing sediment transfer across Lake Rescue, Round Pond and Lake Pauline.