Hyrdilla Brings New Focus And Some Big Changes

The discovery of invasive hydrilla last year around the marina and in the shallow waters north of the state boat launch has prompted a sweeping change in how the Twin Lakes Association board plans to safeguard water quality for the foreseeable future. This highly disruptive plant has become a principal focus for the TLA and the stewards of other lakes in Connecticut.
 
East Twin was the first lake in the state to confirm the presence of hydrilla, also known as water thyme. But this plant, first noted in the Connecticut River in 2016, has found its way into at least five other Connecticut lakes. All of them are taking remedial steps. Through the Connecticut Federation of Lakes and other working groups, The TLA is teaming up to share information and gain a stronger, unified voice in Hartford.

The TLA has assembled a formidable coalition that includes the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Northeast Aquatic Research, and SePro, a lake management consultant. First Selectman Curtis Rand, State Rep. Maria Horn, and State Sen. Stephen Harding are all engaged.
 

The off-season has been especially busy. The TLA board established three sub-groups to investigate different elements of the issues before us. These fall under the general headings of fundraising, lake management (including hydrilla mapping and herbicide permitting), and boat launch access. As always, the board remains vigilant with the more familiar goals of controlling the invasive plants Eurasian Milfoil and Curly-Leaf Pondweed, the latter which we hope to eradicate in West Twin within five years.

This letter will bring TLA members up to speed on our initiatives and help prepare them for decisions coming up for a vote this summer, including a vastly larger budget, changes in the TLA by-laws, and a slate of directors for a new term.
 
The Cost of Lake Management
 
The board estimates the TLA will spend about $250,000 in the coming year on lake management, and similar amounts in future years, to control invasives and eradicate hydrilla. This plant has choked parts of the Connecticut River and is known to suffocate fish and rare plants and foul waters up to 20 feet deep. Our new budget dwarfs any previous TLA budget, and it far exceeds the board’s estimates of only months ago.

The good news is that we have the funds to get through 2024. This is due to generous donations and a campaign that raised $101,600 in December when we asked all TLA members to consider contributing $500-$1,000. Special thanks to board members Erica Cohn, Jean Bell, Jeff Cox, and Eric Stoer for heading the campaign, which garnered 86 individual donations and an anonymous matching contribution of $30,000.

These funds complement an expected $75,000 from the Town of Salisbury and a $75,000 state grant, which we have applied for and expect to hear back on by early spring. A special nod to board members Jackie Blombach, Russ Conklin, and Rich Haupt for their time in submitting the tedious application. Together, these proceeds will fund water quality tests, aquatic plant surveys, mapping hydrilla, herbicide treatments, divers, and barriers to prevent the growth and spread of hydrilla.

The annual dues we collect are now an insignificant portion of a budget that has been driven higher by our new expenses. We urge all members to consider additional giving and we appreciate all who answered the appeal in December. The challenges we face will not quickly abate.
 

One key change for TLA leadership and members is a shift to year-round fundraising, featuring a membership drive in the spring, special events in the summer, and another fundraising appeal in the fall. We will almost certainly look to increase the annual dues at some point.
 
Expert Help
 
Fundraising on the needed scale is beyond our volunteer board’s ability without systems and accounting support. We have hired DEKO Design, a local tech systems and support consultant with nonprofit experience. DEKO is helping to organize and integrate our website, dues collection, newsletter, membership rolls, fundraising campaigns, and accounting. The board has authorized up to $2,500 for this work this year. An anonymous benefactor is footing this bill.

A budget of this size also comes with greater tax accountability, including the filing of complicated documents. We have hired Karen Riccardelli, a Canaan-based tax accountant, who has worked with area nonprofits including the Twin Lakes Beach Club. Her time will cost an estimated $1,000.
 
By-Law Changes Up for Vote
 
Given the increased demand for individual board members’ time, we propose to shorten the elected term of service to three years, down from four years. This also would give TLA members more frequent opportunities to submit a competing slate of directors should they feel things are not going in the direction they want.

The board proposes to expand the definition of its area of interest to include the entire Twin Lakes watershed. This is the result of heightened awareness that water quality is vulnerable to nutrients and sediments that enter the lakes via streams and runoff. The responsibility to employ best land management practices stretches much further into the watershed than simply waterfront properties.
 

To that end, the TLA has won a $25,000 grant for a study of the Twin Lakes watershed. The board has engaged the Housatonic Valley Association to lead this study and is working with it to finalize the scope and cost. We expect the study to begin this summer and take 18-24 months.
 

The board currently has two officers: the president and the senior vice president. We propose to drop “senior” from the latter title as we have only two officers.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the board proposes to revise its spending authority. At present, the board is required to seek membership approval for any single expense beyond $5,000. That is impractical with our new challenges. It is also a limit set decades ago and in today’s dollars equals about $25,000. We propose to raise the level to $25,000 and require board approval, not membership approval. This is a common nonprofit practice. The membership can assert its wishes when voting on the annual budget.
 
Closing Passage Under Isola Bella Bridge
 
To prevent the spread of hydrilla, a barrier will be installed blocking the passage under the Isola Bella bridge, which joins the northern parts of East Twin. This is a valued connector that canoeists, kayakers, and waterboarders use regularly. But with hydrilla possibly pervasive north of the state boat launch, we cannot risk the plant spreading via the natural current to the vulnerable cove east of the bridge.
 

In addition, about 25 acres of water up to four feet deep north of the state boat launch will be restricted and set apart with buoys, beginning in April. This is to prevent propellers from chopping hydrilla plants and having the fragments float away and root elsewhere. This area will be controlled with a system of “floating limno corrals” and light-suppressing mats to prevent growth at the insistence of the state, which must approve the plan as part of our herbicide permit.
 
State Launch Access
 
The board is working with the state and town to revert the state boat launch to its initial mandate—providing access only to car-top watercraft such as kayaks and canoes. Motorized craft have increasingly entered the water from the state launch, which is located near the heart of the hydrilla patches and poses a significant threat by fragmenting the plants. We want all trailered boats and jet skis to enter via the marina, where we are working to establish a monitoring and education station.

The TLA has done a thorough investigation of launch monitoring programs in Connecticut and adjacent states. Most are run by the states for state-owned ramps. Connecticut has a limited monitoring program that is not ideal for Twin Lakes. We are in discussions with the state’s boating division on how to monitor the boat launch at O’Hara’s, which is privately owned, while returning the state boat launch to its intended use. 
 
Save the Dates
 
The first TLA membership meeting will be on June 22. The annual meeting and Twin Lakes Day will be on Aug. 3. We are planning a new event, a boat tie-up party on July 20 to raise money to fight hydrilla. Participants will pay a fee to join the fun. More on that later. 
 
Photo Contest
 
This year’s photo contest theme is “colors” in recognition of the multiple conflicts in the world today and their roots in ethnic discord. Entries should present an array of colorful objects or landscapes—from autumn leaves to party outfits. Anything goes. The contest is open to all, and two winners will be awarded $50 each. The winning photo will be featured on the TLA home page. Please enter early and often via Instagram with the hashtag #TLAphoto2024. Or email to dankadlec17@gmail.com. The deadline is July 31. Photos should have been taken in the 12 months ending July 31.
 
Bank Switch
 
The TLA is moving its accounts to Litchfield Bank, which has local branches, from New York-based NBT, which bought Salisbury Bank last year. Litchfield Bank offers higher CD rates at a time when saving rates have risen enough to matter.
 
Finally…
 
With spring just around the corner, we hope everyone is looking forward to the new season. We are confident that with the support of our community of lake-goers we can manage the hydrilla problem and enjoy the water for decades to come.
 
 

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