A steady rain soaked the grounds at Wolfe Park Tuesday afternoon and the runoff seeped into Great Hollow Lake on its way to flowing into the Pequonnock River then out into Long Island Sound. Bacteria levels in the water always rise after it rains, but areas with little vegetation and heavy erosion allow it to climb even higher.
The Pequonnock River Initiative is an effort to clean up the river, which runs through Monroe, Trumbull and Bridgeport and feeds public drinking watersheds. A $40,522 grant was secured from the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) for the first phase on April 20, when volunteers will plant trees and shrubs and place rocks along Great Hollow Lake.
On Tuesday, DEEP officials Christopher Malik, senior environmental analyst for water protection and land reuse planning and standards, and MaryAnn Haverstock, who is in charge of program oversight, met with local officials at Monroe Town Hall.
Parks & Recreation Dir. Frank Cooper believes there were around eight closings at the beach area of Great Hollow Lake last summer, when bacteria levels rose too high for swimming. And First Selectman Steve Vavrek said he has been asked "what can be done to get people back to our lake."
"We do care about this and we're trying to clean up the Pequonnock as well," Vavrek said.
While bacteria levels rising after a rainstorm is a common occurrence, it is believed that filtering the runoff and reducing erosion by planting vegetation can lead to fewer lake closings.
Among those in attendance were Land Use Dir. Scott Schatzlein, who put together a plan to improve water quality at Great Hollow Lake, Monroe Land Trust & Tree Conservancy member Marven Moss, Public Works Dir. Douglas Arndt, Park Ranger and Town Tree Warden David Solek and Ronald Bunovsky.
After discussing the initiative in Conference Room 204, the group took a ride to Great Hollow Lake for a site walk.
Haverstock praised Monroe for having involvement in the clean up effort across several town departments. She said available funds for water quality are sections 319 and 604b, which is for the protection of natural resources.
Bunovsky asked if towns like Monroe, which have no public sewers and have high ground water levels and public watersheds, can be eligible for more funding to protect its natural resources.
Haverstock said she is not aware of anything that awards more funding to those towns, but added that Monroe could encourage low impact development in its land use regulations to protect its water quality.
Schatzlein said the Planning & Zoning Commission is currently rewriting the regulations and that low impact development is being addressed.
Haverstock said, "It sounds like you're not looking to the future, it sounds like you're being proactive."
Moss said an effort will be made to attract volunteers to work to improve the shoreline along Great Hollow Lake on Saturday, April 20 — close to Earth Day. Organizations who want to get involved can call Vida Stone in the First Selectman's Office at (203) 452-2821. He said nine people had already come forward to volunteer before a date was even set.
Participants will be given a shovel and a specific job to do Moss said, adding a lunch will be arranged. He said public awareness of the importance of the project and getting support behind it is the main goal of April 20.
"This is the first step toward improving water quality," Moss said.
"I think it's your second," Haverstock said of Monroe's efforts. "The first was the plan."