Safe for Recreational use : 193.7' | What is this?
This is the current water level of Lake Lillinonah. Our safety indicator should be used as a guideline only; higher lake elevations cause more floating debris. Always use caution and watch out for floating debris when navigating Lake Lillinonah.
Safest: below 194'
Debris presence unlikely - safe for recreational use.
Caution: 194' to 195'
Debris possibly present - caution advised.
Use Extreme Caution: above 195'
Debris likely present - dangerous.
Posted: June 9, 2005 in General
By: E. L. Lefferts BRIDGEWATER-Last Saturday, about 150 people manning 10 pontoon boats and six runabouts swarmed Lake Lillinonah in a effort to clear debris from the water. Along with the usual mass of tree limbs and floating logs, the group hauled 75 tires, a safe that had been broken into, a car engine and four refrigerators from the lake. In short order, the 30-yard dumpster reserved for the day was full. On Sunday, the water started to rise and by early Monday morning "there was so much debris and flotsam you could practically walk across the lake," recalled George Walker, a member of the nonprofit group Friends of the Lake, which organized the cleanup. "It made your heart sink to see it." Lake Lillinonah is essentially a widened section of the Housatonic River that stretches from the Bleachery Dam in New Milford, through Bridgewater and Brookfield, to the Shepaug Dam in Newtown/Southbury, a distance of about 17 miles. The Bleachery Dam is a low-head dam that's about six to eight feet high, over which debris from the Housatonic can flow. The Bleachery Dam allows Northeast Generation Company (NGC) to raise water levels in the lake to generate electricity at a power station near the Shepaug Dam. Debris such as trees, brush and man-made objects get caught between the two dams and circle in the current until they lodge on the shores or in a cove. It can take decades for a big log or mill-cut board to rot. During heavy rains, these woody hazards often float free and start the pattern of circling again, creating a dangerous problem for boaters and swimmers. The same problem occurs in Lake Zoar, which is south of Lake Lillinonah on the Housatonic River, except that debris buildup is not as acute because river debris is stopped at the Shepaug Dam. The Lake Lillinonah Authority, a municipally appointed board, as well as the membership of the Friends of the Lake group, is frustrated that a debris management plan, ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as part of a new licensing agreement for the hydroelectric facilities, has not yet been implemented by Northeast Generation. "There are all sorts of rumors flying around," Mr. Walker said, "and the rumor mill says we're not even going to see it this year." It is, in fact, very possible that the plan will not be put into effect until next year, according to Bob Gates, the New Milford station manager for Connecticut Hydro, a division of Northeast Generation. Mr. Gates said Monday that the power company has purchased a used debris skimmer that's being retro-fitted by a construction company in Putnam. The craft, the largest manufactured by United Marine International, is undergoing a complete overhaul. The 55-foot-long skimmer, which is 12 feet wide, will be sandblasted, repainted, re-lubed and rewired. The skimmer is equipped with two wings, Mr. Gates explained, that dip below the surface of the lake. Jet action from moving water propels debris onto a conveyor belt that moves it into a hopper about the size of a 30-yard dumpster on the boat. "We're working on getting a permit for dumping the debris once it's been collected," Mr. Gates noted, "and we're getting permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to install a unique boat ramp that will be on NGC property at the Shepaug Dam. Another [ramp] will be just downstream of the dam so they can easily move [the debris skimmer] from Lake Lillinonah to Lake Zoar. The barge is too large to move on the road so we will need the ramp." The watercraft is to be ready by the end of July, when the power company will begin training someone to operate it. A wrinkle in getting started is the need to develop a mid-lake docking point, Mr. Gates said. "These barges are slow, and the lake is so long it would take a whole day to make one pass," reported the station manager. "We're in discussion with the [state Department of Environmental Protection] over using the Route 133 [boat launch] ramp." The power company is also looking into establishing a sorting area on Northeast Generation property near the Shepaug Dam. The spot would be used as a location to chip natural debris and sort man-made materials before sending them to the proper recycling center or landfill. Mr. Gates predicts that these matters won't be resolved until next year, which is not good news for lakeside residents like Mr. Walker and his fellow members of Friends of the Lake. In an April 26 letter to Magalie Salas, the secretary of FERC, Jeffrey Tinley, a Friends executive board member writing on behalf of the organization, claimed that the power company is really trying to delay its debris management plan by requesting protracted test operations. Mr. Tinley also complained that the power company's proposal of skimming Lake Lillinonah twice a week on weekdays from May 1 to Sept. 1 wouldn't make a significant dent in the debris. " ... [I]f NGC is permitted to limit operations to two days per week, there will only [be] a handful of debris removal days during 2005," he wrote, adding, "NGC also recently revealed ... that its removal capacity will be further limited by the fact that it intends to employ only two 35-yard dumpsters on a weekly basis for collection and disposal of debris. As NGC's representative made clear in his presentation ... the driving concern was the cost per dumpster, rather than the level of removal activity needed for an effective debris removal program." The Friends organization is asking FERC to lift the limit on days of the skimmer's operation and force the power company to bring it more in line with the needs of the lake. They also want the debris removal season to extend from April 1 to Nov. 1, with a minimum of 30 days spent on Lake Lillinonah, including Sundays and Mondays. On Sunday, Northeast Generation tends to raise the level of the lake in preparation for high electricity needs Monday morning when everyone returns to work. When the water level is up, the debris starts to float and "debris fields of a mile or more [form] near the southeast shore in relatively close proximity to the Shepaug Dam on Sunday afternoons," Mr. Tinley wrote. Friends of the Lake also want weekly reports from Northeast Generation with a monthly summary, a semi-annual meeting with the Lake Lillinonah and Lake Zoar authorities and an annual meeting to field questions and comments from lakeside stakeholders such as the Friends of the Lake membership. The nonprofit organization is willing to take what it can get in the meantime, however. "Friends of the Lake respectfully request that under no circumstances should Friends of the Lake's comments be used as a reason or an excuse for Northeast Generation Company to defer the start of debris removal activities this year," Mr. Tinley's letter noted. Mr. Gates expects FERC to make a decision regarding the power company's proposed debris management plan and Friends of the Lake's requests within the next few weeks.
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Bridgewater, CT 06752
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