Despite progress, restoring lake still faces upstream battle
By Richard Gaw
To the thousands of residents who call the Somerset Lake development home, the community's namesake – a 28-acre, man-made lake built in 1966 – has served as its most prominent picture postcard, a glimmering waterway that attracts wildlife, flora, fauna and families.
Over the past several years, residents have become citizen scientists in an effort to preserve this natural beauty and, working with professional ecologists and developing initiatives on their own, they have helped to bring attention to the fragility of the lake, its challenges and its long-term viability.
In a thorough presentation before the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors earlier this month, Bill Ward of the Somerset Lake Committee said that despite several projects that have made the lake healthier, there are overwhelming environmental warning signs that could potentially bring on its eventual demise.
“Unfortunately, there are many challenges facing the lake that affect its present health status and long-term viability,” Ward said. “The lake has a high percentage of impermeable surfaces that makes the lake vulnerable to storm water runoff and potential erosion that it causes.”
Very little scientific evidence of the lake's overall health was known until the F.X. Browne Report was issued in 2012, which revealed that the lake had been found to be hyper-eutrophic, due to excessive sediments and nutrients. Further, the report stated that the lake had dangerously-high levels of silt and sediment and toxic algae; an increasing amount of eroding stream banks and tributaries; and at depths greater than six feet, there was no dissolved oxygen, turning parts of the lake into “a biological dead zone” in certain areas, Ward said.
The report said that on average, the amount of silting and sedimentation in the lake reaches as much as 260 tons every year, which leads to a decrease in the water depth of the lake.
With the help of $200,000 raised from the Somerset Lake Homeowners Association fees and the blueprint for lake improvement now on the table, the Committee began a series of projects a few years ago that continue to make a positive impact. In 2015, the committee installed an aeration system in the lake, which improved oxygen levels throughout the water. In addition, beneficial bacteria was also installed in the lake, which has helped to digest organic matter and lake sediment.
Receiving assistance from Marion Waggoner and Dave Yake of the Save Our Water Committee, the group installed a systematic water quality monitoring program in the lake in 2017, sampling the water quality of five locations from April through November, that provided data that is leading them to determine other mediation efforts in the future.
Perhaps the most visible sign of lake mediation done of the committee's part – and the most crucial to its long-term survival – has been through two dredging projects completed in 2016 and last year, at two forebay locations.
The lake, Ward said, is “a perfect candidate” for dredging, given that at several locations, water levels have gone down considerably from the time the lake was constructed 52 years ago. The dam portion of the lake, for instance, which contains the deepest water in the lake, was engineered for a maximum water depth of 24 feet.
“This year, the maximum water depth was 15 feet,” Ward said. “Over the 50-year lifespan of the dam, nine feet of sediment has accumulated at the bottom of the lake, a rate of about one foot of sediment additional accumulation every five to seven years. If that rate continues over the course of the next 75 years, the lake will disappear.”
By the end of the summer of 2016, Ward said that one forebay of the lake was so silted that vegetation was taking over where water once was, and while dredging lowered the sediment levels in the area, it is now anticipated that the forebay will need to be dredged again sometime in the next few years.
“There are times and places when [dredging] is your only alternative and you have to do it, but it is expensive and it provides only temporary relief from stream bank erosion control,” he said.
Ward said that the ongoing mission of the lake committee will be to focus on controlling stream bank erosion in Somerset Lake, and the work is already underway. The committee is planning to collaborate with ecologically-minded organizations and businesses that specialize in watershed improvement, beginning the spring, and also making plans to seek additional funding sources for further research.
In other township news, township solicitor Vince Pompo told the board that Artesian Water Pennsylvania, Inc. has filed an application with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) for a certificate of public convenience, to govern the approval of its acquisition property interest from Artesian Resources Corporation – a well that is located near the corner of Newark and Broad Run roads in Landenberg.
The application, Pompo said, derives from an order issued by the PUC in early December, which rules that in order for Artesian Pennsylvania to implement the easements for the Broad Run well and placement of the water pipe from the water well to Broad Run Road, the PUC has ruled that Artesian must first obtain a certificate of public convenience.
A certificate of public convenience, Pompo said, is the legal mechanism by which a public utility gains the right to undertake certain activities, which in this case concerns the intention of Artesian to ultimately be granted the permission from the PUC to transfer water from the Broad Run well to the Delaware state line.
Pompo said that the public has until March 14, 2018 to file a protest or intervene in the application to the PUC. Any public filing of protest would be in conjunction to a lawsuit that New Garden Township filed against Artesian concerning the activity at the well site.
“The township has been saying all along that in order for Artesian to gain an exemption from regulations because it claims it is a public utility, it must first get some type of approval from the PUC, [relevant to the company's wish to activate the well],” Pompo said. “The PUC agreed with that decision and required Artesian to file additional documents in order to gain that approval and to notice the public, the township and other agencies of the application, so that they would participate in that application before the PUC.”
Scott Mastrangelo of Gardens Great and Small, a landscape design and contracting company located in Yorklyn, De., told the supervisors that he is interested in purchasing the 300-year-old historic Middleton home and its 3.4 acres at the corner of Laurel Heights and Newark roads, in Landenberg. The house and property are both currently vacant.
Mastrangelo intends to restore and renovate the home and property, and make it his residence and design studio. He said he wants to cultivate a half-acre display garden on the property, which will be used to grow plants for installations; and accommodate a small road side stand for his business. He said that he also wishes to keep two to three horses on the property.
Seeking recommendations from the board, Mastrangelo said, “I have a lot of experience in interiors and restoration, and I would love to make the house a beautiful place.”
In order to obtain the property, the board told Mastrangelo that he would need to obtain one application for two variances – one to accommodate his request to have farm animals and a second to operate business on his property.
The board voted to authorize the termination of the township's general authority, which Pompo said has had no activity in the last several years.
Gildo Guizetti, Greg Hanson, David Gula and Michael Wolfe were recognized for their contributions to the township's sewer authority. Hanson died on Jan. 8, and was represented by his wife, Mary and son, Danny.
J. Patrick Little was also recognized for his service as board chairman in 2017.
The board appointed Barbara Bolton as a township representative to the Kennett Library; Amy Lieberman as a representative to the historic commission; and Vincent Liberi to the township's municipal authority.
The Southern Chester County Regional Police Department will hold its annual recognition and awards ceremony at the township building on March 8. Police Chief Gerald Simpson told the board that the department will issue its first-year report to the public on Feb. 9.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.