Give Bees a chance


Lake Quannapowitt is Wakefield’s jewel – an emerald, judging by the color.

It’s August, and like the swallows returning to Capistrano, blue-green algae, aka cyanobacteria, has returned Lake Quannapowitt to the color of pea soup.

Last week, the town issued a public health warning.

“Based on elevated levels of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), MA Dept. of Public Health thresholds for recreational waters have been exceeded,” the alert posted on the towns web site warned.

The alert goes on to say that water that displays the greenish hue that Lake Quannapowitt has assumed, “may contain algae capable of producing toxins that can be dangerous to humans and pets.

“People and pets should avoid contact in areas of algae concentration – even on shore,” the alert continues. “Do not swallow water and rinse after contact.”

It’s time for Wakefield to finally pull the trigger and do something about the condition of the Lake. My suggestion: give SolarBees a chance.

SolarBees are solar-powered mechanical devices that sit low on the water’s surface. They pull up water from the bottom and circulate it out closer to the surface, decreasing stagnation in which cyanobacteria flourish.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are three major causes of elevated cyanobacteria levels: sunlight, slow-moving water and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus).

Lake Quannapowitt is a perfect Petri dish of all three.

The water in the Lake turns over completely only every year to year-and-a-half. Still waters may run deep, but that’s not the case here. Quannapowitt is a shallow lake with an average depth of six feet. That means that the sun’s rays easily penetrate the entire depth of the lake.

High levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from lawn and garden fertilizers used throughout the watershed area enter the Lake through storm water runoff and fuel cyanobacteria growth.

I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure there’s not much we can do about the sun. And good luck convincing lakeside property owners to give up their country club lawns.

So, what’s left?

Keeping the water moving disrupts cyanobacteria’s preferred quiescent environment. SolarBees accomplish that.

Like with the downtown parking issue, every decade or so a new committee is formed to study the Lake’s problems. With each new committee, real action is promised, unlike all the previous times. And on and on it goes.

The latest Lake Quannapowitt Committee was appointed by the Board of Selectmen in 2014. Unfortunately, this group couldn’t agree on what day it was, much less on what to do about the Lake. I covered their meetings over a two-year period. It was like Groundhog Day. I used to joke that I could just keep running my first story over and over, because the discussions were almost indistinguishable.

The Chairman, former Town Engineer Mike Collins, and Jim Luciani, chairman of the Conservation Commission, wanted to give SolarBees a try. Many communities in North America have reported success in controlling cyanobacteria with SolarBees.

But a couple of other members of the Lake Committee opposed trying them, claiming that there was no support for their efficacy against cyanobacteria in “peer-reviewed scientific literature.”

Another argument against SolarBees is that they would be “an eyesore” and create obstacles for boaters. So, boaters are able to avoid crashing into each other, but these stationary objects would apparently be magnets for boats.

And how is a green, unhealthy Lake, teaming with these organisms not an eyesore? Get some of this Lake water in your eyes, and you’ll find out what a real eyesore is.

There is universal agreement that Lake Quannapowitt is Wakefield’s biggest attraction. So much so that the town is trying its best to leverage that attraction to get walkers and other recreational users into the downtown business district.

What other infrastructure fix is worth more to the town than fixing the Lake?

If the town keeps waiting for the 100 percent perfect, guaranteed solution, we’ll be waiting for a long, long time.

SolarBees are sustainable, zero-energy and don’t involve dumping massive quantities of chemicals into the Lake.

Time to bite the bullet and give SolarBees a try.

[This column originally appeared in the August 30, 2018 Wakefield Daily Item.]

SolarBee photo by Don DeBold.

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