Teams set out from the Bridgewater Boat Launch on Saturday morning, armed with gloves and garbage bags. More than 100 volunteers pitched in, ultimately filling two 20-yard waste containers with garbage pulled from the shallow waters and shoreline of Lake Lillinonah.
Utilizing six pontoon boats, lake lovers of all ages towed in trash and debris from different areas of the lake. Several teams also set out on the shoreline on foot to collect debris.
Brookfield resident and volunteer Barbara Petriccione has been participating in the cleanup effort for the past eight years with Friends of the Lake (FOTL), and with the Lake Lillinonah Authority for several years before then. She's encouraged that people are becoming more responsible in general and said that "each year, progressively there is less and less debris." As a property owner on the lake, she is still amazed at what she finds washed up on the shores.
For three hours Petriccione and the small group of friends she was working with, consisting on six adults and four children, picked up trash along the shore, in little coves and from thin rocky beaches, until the rowboat they towed behind them was overflowing with debris.
The group has worked together over the years and seen some strange things pulled from the lake, like a safe, a car engine and a refrigerator. More common items are seen year after year, like sneakers and flip flops, countless Styrofoam bait boxes left behind by fishermen, cigarette lighters, dining utensils, tennis balls, golf balls and plastic in all shapes and sizes.
This year, the gross find of the day may have been underwear, but it depends who you ask. Also found were "propane tanks, a large piece of a broken dock and a starter from a car engine," according to FOTL member Jeff Silverman. He went on to explain that if the water level was dropped, we would see "three times the amount of debris collected."
Although people may be becoming more aware and careful about cleaning up after themselves when visiting the lake, Lillinonah, the second largest lake in Connecticut, still faces two major challenges: algae blooms and floating debris. During the summer months, high nitrogen and phosphorus levels contribute to thick algae blooms that make the lake impossible to use and hazardous to humans and wildlife. Debris levels (including garbage and tree branches) rise and fall depending on the level of the water. When the level reaches 195 feet or higher, debris chokes the lake.
Over the coming months, FOTL will introduce new technology to improve the long-term health of the lake. They will start by launching electronic data collection equipment that will help FOTL and others understand how the nitrogen and phosphorus levels erode the lake's water quality. This information will be used by GLEON (Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network), who are studying the impact of climate change on freshwater lakes worldwide.
Additionally, FOTL has developed an iPhone application that will work with the GPS System of the iPhone, allowing accurate accident reports, hazard warnings and water quality reports to be sent directly to the authorities or the FOTL website and data bank. The iPhone app will be available as a free download at their website or from the apps store.
Save the Lake Day is in its eighth year. FOTL is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 to improve conditions on the lake for recreational enjoyment and for its long-term environmental protection. Lake Lillinonah was created in 1955 out of the Housatonic River to produce hydroelectric power. It extends 12 miles north to south, with 45 miles of shoreline.