Hammonton Lake is well-maintained and will remain so
The Hammonton Lake Water Quality Committee is the town committee established by ordinance to investigate, monitor, and try to improve the quality of the water in Hammonton Lake. The impetus to create the committee was the finding that the town could not sufficiently meet the Atlantic County Department of Health standards for swimming in the lake.
The committee, working with the town engineer, Adams, Rehmann & Heggan (ARH), created a Hammonton Lake Management Plan, which is available on the town’s website. The plan addresses several lake-related issues, which we’ll explore in this and future columns.
Today, I’ll address vegetation management, which seems to be a perennial topic of discussion and some misinformation around these parts.
Hammonton Lake has a variety of aquatic vegetation. We have some grasses and some other species (including non-native invasives like Eurasian milfoil), but most noticeable are the lily pads (aka Spatterdock), and an interesting carnivorous plant called Bladderwort. Bladderwort has an intriguing life cycle: it grows from roots in the lake bed, but part way through the growth season, it detaches from these roots and eventually forms floating mats. Fish and other lake denizens use these mats as places to feed and hide from predators. The bladderwort floats around gobbling up microscopic animals (they are no danger to humans or, indeed, anything larger than a pinhead).
Now, while Bladderwort is a naturally-occurring species throughout New Jersey, its habit of forming floating masses has given it a bad reputation among some people, especially with the folks who’ve bought property along the lake. The mats can interfere with accessing the lake from their docks. Certainly, they impede a view through the crystal-clear waters.
If the plant was allowed to “get out of hand,” it could interfere with the ability of sport fishermen to navigate to favorite angling locations.
To address that problem, the management plan specifies a particular regimen of spraying the Bladderwort with an herbicide developed specifically for plants that live in the water. Called “Diquat,” the plant-killer has been around for decades, and has been shown to 1. reliably reduce the population of Bladderwort, and 2. cause no serious damage to other species (plant or animal) that are in the water with the Bladderwort.
Throughout the years, the Lake Water Quality Committee, as the town body charged with monitoring the condition of the lake, has regularly evaluated the effect of the spraying regimen prescribed by the management plan, and because of its long experience in the matter, has altered the schedule to fit the growing scientific knowledge of the habits of Bladderwort, etc. Currently, the Plan calls for spraying half of the affected areas of the lake one year, the second half of the affected areas in the following year, followed by two years of allowing the lake to “rest.”
The committee, in its quest to ensure we have solid scientific grounding for our decisions, rather than base them on “feelings” or “impressions” or random opinions, has engaged with scientists at Stockton University to conduct ongoing research at the lake, including routine measures of lake quality, a full-scale vegetation study, salinity impact studies, geo-mapping, assessments of the impacts of invasive non-native mollusks in the lake, and E. coli DNA identification and remediation trials. These studies have already enriched our understanding of the lake’s status and dynamics.
We have also maintained regular contact with colleagues at the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, who conduct annual fish inventories and water quality studies, as well as stocking the lake with game fish four times a year on average.
What these university scientists and experienced State Fish and Wildlife experts tell us is that the lake is in good balance, both as to its vegetation and its animal life (especially fish, reptiles, and amphibians). They have testified at Lake Committee meetings as to the balance of the lake, and as to its continued suitability for recreational activities including boating and fishing.
The management plan’s herbicide spraying schedule called for the lake to be sprayed this past spring. However, based on testimony that the lake remains in good balance, and desiring not to introduce extra chemicals into the lake while Stockton completes its current round of studies, the Lake Committee decided back in January of this year to delay an application to DEP for spraying in 2022, with resumption of the regular schedule of spraying in 2023.
At that time, we immediately notified the mayor, council, public works, utility department, town clerk, Parks and Recreation Commission, and the town recreation supervisor about our decision, which was accepted without debate (copies of the notice available upon request).
We made that decision after much discussion, debate, and deliberation. Neither Stockton nor DEP have told us what to do. All of us on the Committee are acutely aware of the condition of Atco and Elm lakes, and we will not allow Hammonton Lake to reach those conditions, no matter the level of fevered opinion to the contrary. Hammonton Lake is sound, and will remain so!
We all enjoy the lake in its current well-maintained condition, and we are proud that boaters and fishermen routinely tell us how great they think our lake is. We will always strive to improve the condition of the lake for recreational purposes, as well as to maintain its suitability as habitat for an amazing array of life forms (for some examples, check out the “Hammonton NJ Species Survey” on the free iNaturalist app!).
The Lake Water Quality Committee consists of John Keenan, John Scianni, Robert Roesch, Bill Parkhurst, Lynee LoCicero, Dwight Baldwin, Shawn McCloud, Gordon Pherribo, Tracy Petrongolo, and me.
We meet at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month, and will begin meeting at the Canoe Club regularly in September.
We eagerly invite you to join us at our meetings to share your questions, concerns, issues, ideas and, yes, even your complaints.
You can also ask any of the committee members about our work, and they’ll be happy to give you the straight story about all things lake, without hyperbole or misinformation. You can also contact us through the town’s email at firstname.lastname@example.org; simply note that the message is for the Hammonton Lake Water Quality Advisory Committee (or HLWQAC).
We conduct our business with the same level of transparency for which we strive in Hammonton Lake. Come join us in our quest to have the best dammed lake in southern New Jersey!
Dan Bachalis is a former town councilman and has served on a number of town committees. He currently serves as the chairman of the Hammonton Environmental Commission and the Lake Water Quality Commission.