Connecticut has more than 3,000 officially named lakes, ponds and reservoirs. A few are the fountainheads from which cities draw potable water. Many are becoming real estate refuges for those retreating from hurricane-hit saltwater shores. Many more are cash cows for rural towns, given their relatively high property tax assessments. All provide state residents with aesthetic, recreational and educational benefits.
Yet sadly, the state's lake program is the runt of the litter with respect to water resource protection. Stronger siblings include the Connecticut River; the storm-threatened beaches and marshes of Long Island Sound; the babbling brooks of woodsy watersheds; major aquifers, from which nearly all rural residents draw their water; and inland wetlands protected by federal law. These programs garner most of the mother's milk of money from public financing, leaving the lake program to suckle the hind teat.
Connecticut is clearly not Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin, where lakes are the star attractions for environmental protection. Nor is it Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont, where large, rock-lined lakes are major tourist destinations. Our lake programs fly below the radar of public concern because they are typically small, widely distributed and we take their benefits for granted.
Fortunately, we've got Chuck, Larry and Mark, along with a handful of professional lake scientists and dozens of private, nonprofit lake associations working hard to improve our lakes. This is my thank-you for their efforts, which coincides with this year's annual conference of the New England Chapter of the North American Lake Management Society, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the University of Connecticut. This year's theme is "Green Ideas for Blue Lakes."
Chuck Lee is the state's sole employee devoted to lake protection within the sprawling Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. In terms of public profile, he's a minnow working in the back office of an agency dominated by bigger fish such as former commissioners Gina McCarthy and Daniel Esty. They headlined more politically charged issues such as climate change and green economics, respectively. In fact, information about lakes doesn't appear on the DEEP's website until you navigate down three levels from the home page.
Larry Marsicano is president of the Connecticut Federation of Lakes, an all-volunteer, no-dues, nonprofit organization. His day job is being a professional lake manager, the longtime executive director of the Candlewood Lake Authority, which manages the state's largest lake. Located in western Connecticut, it is chronically besieged by a variety of environmental and fiscal threats.
Mark Urban is an aquatic ecologist in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. He regularly teaches lake science (limnology) to the state's future lake managers. Though he is only one of many academics teaching this course in the state, I single him out because he does so at the state's land-grant university.
To this list of named individuals, I leave a longer list of unnamed lake scientists who've devoted their careers to improving the quality of Connecticut's lakes. They are either employees of environmental service corporations or work as independent contractors and consultants helping to maintain lake quality.
Last on my thank-you list are the many members of the state's lake associations. These nonprofit, community organizations are devoted to protecting the practical and intrinsic values of specific lakes, for example, Andover, Chaffee, Crystal, Hayward, Hidden, Lillinonah, Quaddick, Waramaug and Woodbridge. Many border on several towns.
This year's lake management conference will feature four big issues. First is the use of smartphone technology to facilitate lake management and to strengthen the social life of lake associations. Shoreline management is being steered away from hardscape protection and chemically fertilized lawn monoculture toward more naturally vegetated buffers. Blooms of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) are posing toxic threats that can be abated by bringing nutrient pollution under control. New solutions to the chronic problems of non-native invasive species are being rolled out.
In spite of these threats, the runt of Connecticut's water resource litter is alive and well, thanks to those named and unnamed above.
Robert M. Thorson is a professor at the University of Connecticut's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at email@example.com.