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Jul 8, 2009 11:26 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

New website will allow residents to monitor Lake Agawam water quality

Jul 8, 2009 11:26 AM

The Lake Agawam Conservation Association has launched a new website that will offer constant updates on the progress of the ailing lake located in the heart of Southampton Village while raising awareness of initiatives undertaken to improve its water quality.

The association also recently ordered a water quality measuring device so Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook Southampton’s Marine Sciences Research Center and his students have the necessary tools to monitor Lake Agawam in real time, and then post the results on the new website, lakeagawam.com. The site is also a resource on what village residents and businesses can do to reduce their negative impact on the water body.

Lake Agawam suffers from eutrophication, a condition that occurs when too many nutrients lead to algal blooms that turn the water green, create toxins and deprive the water of dissolved oxygen, which can lead to fish kills. Dr. Gobler has been working with the Southampton Town Trustees and the Southampton Village Board for years to study the lake and identify the cause of its troubles. The lake association, or LACA, was formed a few years ago when concerned lake-side homeowners and others in the village decided to commit themselves to the lake’s future.

“It came together in very late 2006, early 2007, with me and a couple of our neighbors, Chuck Scarborough and Whitney Stevens,” said LACA President and founder David Bohnett. “We were all interested in what we could do to help improve the water quality of the lake and improve visibility with the village.”

When the Village Board commissioned the environmental planning firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis in October 2007 to draft a comprehensive management plan for Lake Agawam, LACA split the cost of the study with the village. A copy of the plan is posted on lakeagawam.com, as is the “Lake Agawam Owners’ Guide,” an informational brochure on protecting the lake.

The new water quality device LACA is buying for Dr. Gobler and the marine science students will remain in the water nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and monitor the conductivity, pH, temperature and oxygen levels in the water. “It measures water quality in real time without having to be there,” Dr. Gobler explained.

The data from the device, coupled with lake data collected since 2003, will enable Dr. Gobler to tell if Lake Agawam is actually improving or just following its natural cycles.

“There’s a hint that it’s gotten a little better in the last couple years,” he said, adding that firm data will also help the village increase its chances of receiving grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve the water quality of the lake.

During a recent interview at his Stony Brook Southampton campus office, Dr. Gobler, an associate professor, explained that the chief sources of nutrient input to Lake Agawam are stormwater runoff and groundwater. Runoff carries lawn fertilizers, which are rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, into the lake. Groundwater carries with it nutrients from wastewater.

When there are high levels of nutrients, cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, thrive. The blue-green algae can be harmful not only to the lake’s ecosystem, but to humans as well, Dr. Gobler said.

“Some of them make this toxin, microcystin, that can affect your liver,” he said.

Dr. Gobler added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that those toxins can be aerosolized and then inhaled. If cyanobacteria or toxin levels in the lake get out of hand, it could put recreational uses of the lake, like boating, in jeopardy, Dr. Gobler said. Even now, boating on the lake is infrequent.

“It’s sort of a pity that it’s not used, and historically it was used much more,” said Mark Fichandler, the program director for LACA.

Dr. Gobler recommended that the village reroute stormwater and install a sewage treatment plant to avoid future algae blooms. “Those two things would eliminate the two big sources of nutrients,” he said.

The village has already begun to add to its stormwater infrastructure. Last year, dry wells were installed on Hill Street, and earlier this year the village requested $2.3 million in federal stimulus funds for stormwater abatement and recharge projects.

Another problem that cyanobacteria pose, according to Dr. Gobler, is that when they suddenly run out of nutrients—like when it doesn’t rain for a while and there hasn’t been any runoff nutrient loading the water—they die, and their decomposition uses up the dissolved oxygen in the lake.

That happened in the fall of 2006 at Lake Agawam, causing a fish kill, Dr. Gobler said. Tim Davis, one of his doctoral students, was the one who discovered it.

“I was just conducting routine sampling,” Mr. Davis recalled. He said there were a couple thousand dead white perch on the lake’s north shore, and other fish were gulping for air at the surface.

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