Smoother Sailing Ahead for Lake Management
The Hammonton Lake Water Quality Advisory Committee has continued to work to improve our understanding and management of the “Crown Jewel of Hammonton.” Unfortunately, outside forces this spring derailed our plans to continue with the usual vegetation management called for by the Hammonton Lake Management Plan. Since then, there has been an understandable lament about the appearance of the lake, specifically centered on the amount of Bladderwort (scientific name Utricularia) floating around. What follows is the real scoop on what happened.
In accord with past practice, spraying of an aquatic herbicide, Diquat dibromide, was going to be applied to about half of the affected areas of the lake by Town staff, who had just received their certification allowing them to do so. During the application process to the N.J.
Department of Environmental Protection for the spraying permit, either public comment to or documentary research by the N.J. Pinelands Commission indicated the possible presence of one or more (up to three) threatened or endangered species of Utricularia in or near the lake. Consequently, the Commission required the Town to hire an outside consultant to survey the lake for any indication that these (up to three) species were in the lake. (Note: to our knowledge up to this point, the lake is only populated by a non-threatened/endangered species of Utricularia, U. vulgaris, but then again, we’re always finding out new things about the lake.)
This meant that we would miss the roughly mid-May window for spraying the herbicide (its effectiveness is dependent on the water temperature being in a rather narrow range, not too hot, not too cold). Plainly put, no spraying in 2023, but hopefully, depending on the results of the biological survey, in spring of 2024.
Exactly what happens to this protocol of spraying the lake depends mightily on the findings of our outside consultant, DuBois Associates, a very experienced firm with a solid history of reliable work. If they find the suspected species, we will have to craft a strategy for protecting them (the species, not DuBois) while hopefully finding a way to control the otherwise plentiful U. vulgaris. Of course, if no “T&E” species are discovered, then we will fully engage in 2024, resuming our pattern of spraying for two years and letting the lake “rest” for two years.
The survey work has been completed and we are awaiting a report of the findings. So, by early September, we’ll know the results and will begin to develop our plans for 2024.
In the meantime, the Lake Committee has received complaints about the unsightliness of the floating vegetation, difficulty of navigating the lake, etc. I sympathize with the sentiments; Committee members go boating on the lake, too, and it’s just not fun having to stop every couple of feet and clean off the stringy wet stuff. What I hope our residents will understand is that Hammonton was fully prepared to do what it needed to do to reduce the population of Bladderwort before the revelations by the Pinelands Commission, despite the insinuations to the contrary by people who know better. We were not neglecting our mission to maintain the lake in good condition for all users, including humans. Nor will we, ever; many of the Committee’s members are lakeside owners themselves, and all of us a deeply committed Hammontonians.
But the laws are the laws, and the Town needed to comply, however caught by surprise everyone was. I am confident that, even if any species of concern are found in Hammonton Lake, we will, working with DuBois Associates, ARH Associates (the Town Engineer) and, yes, even the Pinelands Commission and DEP, be able to craft a plan acceptable to all for both the protection of special species and the prudent management of an otherwise plentiful (and sometimes too plentiful) floating plant. In the meantime, the Bladderwort will begin to decay and sink out of sight, as it does every year from now into the fall.
In the longer term, while our go-to strategy for vegetation control for many years has been to apply a chemical herbicide on these plants, there are alternatives to be considered that do not involve chemicals, even as environmentally “benign” a substance as Diquat dibromide. These alternatives tend to be more expensive, but may be more effective over a longer time frame.
This discussion is part of the Committee’s ongoing work, among a number of other issues.
I am grateful for and want to thank those of you who have reached out to the Lake Committee in a positive spirit of inquiry about this year’s situation, and for the in-depth, lively and respectful conversations we have had about the condition of the lake and what the near future holds. We hope that others will also choose to keep in touch with the Committee about how things are going, and the many other things we are working on the preserve and improve the lake for now and for all future generations. The Committee meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Canoe Club in Hammonton Lake Park, overlooking the beautiful waters that have graced our town for over 200 years. We look forward to seeing you there! Bring a friend!
Dan Bachalis is the chairperson for the Hammonton Lake Water Quality Advisory Committee and the Hammonton Environmental Commission.