A meeting of Southampton Village residents, state and local elected officials and environmental experts on Friday morning set the goal of finding out what can be done to fix the issues that plague polluted Lake Agawam.
The gathering was held at billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson’s home, located on Lake Agawam in Southampton Village, and in a way it was the kickoff meeting for the planned Lake Agawam Conservancy — a nonprofit 501(c)(3), pitched by new Mayor Jesse Warren, with the goal of privately making improvements to the lake’s condition, and made up of homeowners around the lake, and local citizens who are concerned about the health of the water body.
Each year, Lake Agawam is attacked by blue-green algae blooms, or cyanobacteria, which is fueled by heat, phosphorus and nitrogen. A big portion of the nitrogen comes from runoff from the village business district, while other sources include rain runoff from lawns and faulty septic systems.
Meeting at Mr. Paulson’s mansion on the lake could not have been more fitting, as he is a major donor to the Central Park Conservancy in New York City — a model of what organizers hope the Lake Agawam Conservancy can strive to be. In fact, in 2012, Mr. Paulson donated $100 million to the group.
Mayor Warren announced the creation of the Lake Agawam Conservancy in July, and so far the group already has raised over $400,000 to fund efforts to help improve the conditions of the lake. This week it was revealed that that Mr. Paulson is the chairman of the conservancy.
“The conservancy started when I approached some of the Agawam homeowners,” Mr. Warren said on Friday.
He explained that efforts were made by Agawam homeowners, for decades, to operate an organization called the Lake Agawam Conservation Association. When Mr. Warren approached some of the homeowners who were involved in those efforts, it sparked an interest in the community.
“One of the things I was pushing for is giving some management responsibilities to the conservancy, because there’s just no possible way that the village is able to do all of this,” Mr. Warren said. “This is evidenced by the slow pace of progress in the past.”
Mr. Paulson and Mr. Warren were joined by many other people at the meeting including Bob Giuffra of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, who is the president of the conservancy, Town Trustees Ed Warner Jr., Bill Pell and Bruce Stafford, Village Board members Andrew Pilaro and Kimberly Allan, Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University.
Dr. Gobler presented the group with various statistics about the health of the lake as well as methods that could be pursued to improve the lake.
Some of the methods included floating wetlands, which could help pull nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, the use of a skimmer to pull the floating blue-green algae scum from the water, or even pumping the water through an area of vegetation to take up the nutrients, before it flows back into the lake.
Dr. Gobler also suggested homeowners plant buffers of plants between their homes and the lake.
One of the bigger projects discussed was dredging the bottom of the lake, which Dr. Gobler said would be costly — a figure of $10 million was thrown about loosely. Some areas of the lake have sediment that is approximately 10 feet deep.
If the lake was dredged, a place would need to become available for the spoils to sit for at least a year for water to drain out.
“The biggest problem with the dredge is where are they going to put it,” Mr. Stafford said on Friday. “I don’t know of any property in that area where that sediment can sit for a year.”
Mr. Warner agreed, saying the odor of the spoils would be bad.
During the meeting, Mr. Warner told those in attendance that he would like to have a similar meeting about the lake in front of the Trustees, being that they are the owners of the bottom of the lake.
After the meeting, Mr. Warner said he wanted to make sure the Trustees were involved, but also wanted to make sure the rest of the town was aware of what was happening at Lake Agawam.
All three trustees who attended said they fully support the efforts being made by the conservancy.
Still, improving the health of the lake will depend on how many people decide to help.
“It would have to be done hand-in-hand,” Mr. Warren said. “The village would have to be involved. They will also take some things on privately — for example, buffer zones. Some of the homeowners will pay out of their own pocket through the 501(c)(3).
As far as where the conservancy will go next, Mr. Warren said a study is being conducted to find out what the sediment at the bottom of the lake is made up of. Once that is determined, they can determine what the first step will be.