Supervisors give 'OK' to submit grant proposal to clean Somerset Lake
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
The New Garden Board of Supervisors gave approval at their June 22 meeting to a grant proposal process, the potential funding of which will help pay for the restoration of Somerset Lake in Landenberg.
In a presentation before the board, Somerset Lake Corporation members Pete Scilla and Donna Lewis introduced the tenets of what will be their proposal to Growing Greener Plus, a grant program established by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that invests in projects that protect and restore the state's watersheds from impairment due to source pollution.
Scilla said that the grant proposal stemmed from a study on the lake done in 2013 by Dr. F.X. Browne, a professor of watershed management at Villanova University, which the township sponsored to look into the overall healthiness of the lake.
Sharing the results of his three-year study of the lake and its nearby watershed in Oct. 2013, Browne told an audience gathered at the New Garden Township Building that the lake is exceedingly high in phosphorous and chlorophyll A, and its high level of blue-green algae is giving off dangerous toxins that can be harmful to both humans and pets at its current levels, with the potential to be fatal.
In water samples collected in June, July and September 2011, it was discovered that the lake is "hyper-eutrophic," meaning that it is exceedingly high in sediments and nutrients caused by erosion and runoff from nearby mushroom farms, developed areas, roadways and poorly vegetated areas. Browne said the lake was "worse than 90 percent" of the lakes in the United States, and "potentially greener than all the lakes in the country. It's supersaturated with algae, and its content of algae gets worse as the lake gets deeper, thus cutting off oxygen for fish, who end up needing to live on the top of the lake," he added.
Further, Browne said that 54 percent of the watershed surrounding Somerset Lake is "in bad shape, and that number is unusually high" for a body of water that size.
Among his ideas for improving the lake, Browne said that the excessively high amount of blue-green algae could be controlled by the use of algaecide treatments during warm-weather periods, or by the use of a diffused air bubbler aeration system that could supply oxygen to the lake. The Somerset Lake Corporation, he recommended, could install floating wetland islands to reduce phosphorus concentrations in the lake. Dredging the lake of its sediments and nutrients could also be an option, Browne said, but one that would cost up to $1 million.
Scilla said that several of Browne's recommendations have already been implemented, which include treating the high level of blue-green algae with algaecide; installing a bubbler aeration system; and dredging the lake's forebay.
As part of its grant proposal, the group would like to continue achieving Browne's recommendations, including creating a large, demonstration rain garden in the vicinity of the lake, as well as creating smaller rain gardens on private properties near the lake. In addition, the group would like to provide up to 50 rain barrels to the Somerset Lake community.
The second part of the Corporation's proposal will be to seek funding to develop a water quality data acquisition system, as well as developing educational workshops for Somerset Lake residents that will be taught by representatives from the Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin, the Mt. Cuba Center in Yorklyn, as well as the township's codes/zoning officer, Don Suckstorf. Some of thee workshops are already underway, and will cover topics such as rain gardens, native plantings, proper fertilization and township regulations.
Scilla and Lewis asked the supervisors to consider entering the township into an in-kind donations to the project, such as the use of its backhoes, which will be used for garden excavation.
"We'll get a good education through this, and we'd like to bring the township along with us to the next phases, in order to apply again for another grant next year, in order to do more work," Scilla said. "I see this on-going relationship. We've been successful to date, and we've seen some positive improvement, but there is still a long way to go."
In other township business, the board also gave approval to the drafting of a vacancy ordinance intended to better insure that vacant properties throughout the township are monitored for safety, insurance, landscaping maintenance and security. Dr. Margaret "Peg" Jones and Stuart Roberts of the township's Historical Commission urged the supervisors to adopt a new vacancy ordinance, saying that a major reason for the request was that such an ordinance would place more of a value on abandoned homes – in particular, those of historic significance – several of which she said have been demolished in the township in recent years. As an example, Jones pointed to the historic home on 170 Scarlet Road, which was damaged twice by fire and resulted in the death of a township man last year.
"If there had been some sort of ordinance a year when that first fire occurred in that house, so that there would have been some township oversight, that house might be standing today," she said.
The board posed several questions related to the planned ordinance; specifically, determining what defines a vacant home; how the ordinance would be enforced; and determining the degree to which the township would be the proper stewards of the ordinance.
The draft of the ordinance will then be introduced to the board for revision and/or approval.