PALMYRA TWP. (Pike) - Lake Wallenpaupack, averaging 45 billion gallons, spread over 5,700 acres, 14 miles in length and lapping 52 miles of shoreline remains in good ecological health as of the latest available data. That’s the overall assessment according to the nonprofit watershed group keeping an eye on its water quality.

The 2016 “State of the Lake” report was presented October 18th, by the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District (LWWMD). Edward Maleski, owner and president of AquaLink, the District’s aquatic biological consultant, described to the public how they monitor the lake, analyze the data and follow the trends seen over the past 37 years since the District was organized.

The good report card, like any school student- or at least his or her parent- knows, cannot be taken for granted.
Lake Wallenpaupack wasn’t always so nearly pristine. The LWWMD came together in 1979 to address a critical condition that was choking the lake of its life, making it unsightly and unattractive for those living around it as well as the thousands of visitors who come hoping to enjoy it.

It’s working

Maleski said it was a credit to the work of the LWWMD, made up of stakeholders who share a common interest in the lake’s vitality. The LWWMD has labored through the decades to educate and inspire the public to take care of the lake and its tributaries within the 219 square mile drainage area. The District has an aggressive monitoring schedule, looking for such things as how murky it is and how laden it is with nutrients that can feed algae blooms, as well as pollutants. The District also serves as a conduit for grants that can help pay (normally with an applicant’s match) to prevent or correct conditions, whether it be stream bank and shoreline erosion, controlling storm runoff and helping farmers institute better management practices to keep manure and chemicals away from the streams feeding the lake.

A benchmark was reached in 2016 showing evidence how the lake has been improving over the years. Nick Spinelli, District Administrator, noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removed Lake Wallenpaupack from its Impaired Waters list, in every category except mercury- which comes down from the atmosphere.

Conditions have improved, Maleski added, despite the fact that in that time frame, development around the lake and recreational usage has increased. He stated that in his experience, he sees the “complete opposite” at other lakes.

Maleski showed numerous graphs showing how factors affecting the lake’s ecology have changed from 1980 to 2016, in the period of May to October. This time frame is both when the lake is under most use, and when monthly water samples are taken.

Getting warmer

Average air temperature has gradually risen. “Is global warming happening?,” Maleski asked, rhetorically. He noted that in 37 years, the average annual temperature exceeded 62 degrees in nine separate years. Five of those times have occurred in the last seven years. Warmer temperatures, he added, grows more algae. Average precipitation has been quite constant, with only a slight increase. The observed “secco depth,” which looks at the clarity of the water, is good for fisheries and clear enough for swimmers, he said. This has gradually improved over the decades. Total phosphorous concentrations have been gradually improving. Total nitrogen concentrations have shown a slight increase, but Maleski said this may not be significant. Chlorophyl-a levels have shown a gradual increase, but have been relatively stable in the last 10 years.

In conclusion, Maleski stated that the water quality is considered good for aesthetics and recreation and has improved since 1980.

Among his recommendations are to maintain the regular monitoring and be consistent with the laboratory and consulting services. He advised retaining a qualified lake firm to assist with invasive aquatic species, in regards to public education and monitoring. This involves an increased effort at checking boats and boat ramps for undesirable species that a boater may bring to the lake.

A woman in the audience asked about the large numbers of geese and ducks on the lake, and how annoying they can be. She says many boaters feed them, although she tries to tell people not to. Maleski stated that is harder to control resident Canada geese. Permits are needed before trying to control them by finding their nests.

Autumn algae bloom

A man inquired about the algae bloom that was observed in a cove this fall, which seemed late in the season. Males stated that this was probably due to the natural turn-over of the lake that occurs in the fall. When the lake is lowered in September, the lake becomes more truncated and the warm and cold water mixes earlier than it should.

Spinelli added that the schedule of lake levels and when the lake is drawn down is set by the federal license which was renewed by PPL in 2005. The conditions of the license were compiled over a lengthy process with public input and stakeholder meetings. Brookfield Renewable is under the same license, and there really is no chance of changing it, he said.
There have been mild winters in recent years, with no ice cover. When the ice breaks, light and heat penetrate the waters and algae starts to form. The season has been longer than they are used to, Spinelli said. Other factors include the unusually mild temperatures this autumn, and the rainy weather we have experienced,

Two years ago, Spinelli said, there was an algae bloom seen in December, in one of the coves. The bloom became visible when the winds blew the algae into the cove.

More monitoring for data is the best way to track trends, Mayeski interjected.

More information is available from the Watershed District. Call 570-226-3865 or visit www.wallenpaupackwatershed.org.