Quechee Lake Plan May Harm Well

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2018

Quechee — Hartford’s chief water system operator says a proposal to eradicate invasive milfoil from Lake Pinneo with a chemical herbicide doesn’t provide enough safeguards to a nearby well.

“We are concerned that not enough consideration has been given to the public drinking water source serving the users of the Quechee Central Water System,” Rick Kenney, who has been managing Hartford’s water for the last 30 years, wrote in a letter to the Watershed Management Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC has drafted a permit that would allow the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association to use fluridone, a chemical agent marketed under the name Sonar, on its man-made 52-acre lake this summer.

The draft permit, which currently is the subject of negotiations between QLLA and the DEC, finds that the use of Sonar would help eradicate milfoil while “only inconsequential harm is expected to occur.” The main expected negative impact of the treatment would be the death of native aquatic plants such as nodding waternymph and sago pondweed, but those plants would rebound within one or two years, according to the draft permit.

The public had until late Friday afternoon to weigh in with comments on the proposal, after which the DEC will make a final determination.

Most of Kenney’s concerns have to do with a well that’s located about 220 feet from the lake shoreline, at the edge of the nearby Highland Golf Course. Every year, the town draws 42 million gallons of water out of the well, and pumps it into the homes of about 2,000 Quechee residents. The water, which ultimately is supplied by a deep underground aquifer, is pristine, and needs no treatment to qualify for public consumption.

“We pump about 550 gallons a minute out of that well,” Kenney said on Friday. “About 140,000 gallons a day is what we’re taking out of the ground. So if it by chance gets into the ground, we’re going to pump it out.”

SOLitude Lake Management, the Massachusetts-based contractor that submitted the permit application on QLLA’s behalf, asserted that the fluridone would be contained to Lake Pinneo, in part because the lake sits on a heavy plastic liner that was installed when the lake was created in the 1970s.

Because the lake still holds water without apparent leakage, there is no reason to think the liner is compromised, according to the application from SOLitude, where executives familiar with the project did not respond to requests for comment.

Kenney is uncomfortable with the idea of the project relying on the liner’s integrity.

“The assumption is, the liner is still good,” he said. “I can’t say it is and I can’t say it isn’t.”

He also doesn’t like a clause in the draft permit that calls for the well to be tested for fluridone 24 hours after the chemical is applied to the nearby lake.

In his letter, Kenney says a more robust testing regimen should be employed, one that allows time for fluridone to migrate from the lake to the well. He said that testing procedures and qualified laboratories have yet to be identified for fluridone, which does not show up on any of the EPA-mandated water quality tests that he currently uses on the well.

“I don’t even know where to test this thing,” Kenney said.

He also asks for SOLitude to back up claims that long-term groundwater testing has been done at other sites where fluridone has been deployed.

“I think there’s a lack of data as far as testing groundwater,” Kenney said. “I can’t find anything substantial.”

Kenney said that one of his primary concerns is that the town of Hartford was virtually frozen out of the permitting process — he said he learned about the project through a third party and received no response when he asked the state for more information.

“I emailed them,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, I find out (the permit is) out. There was virtually no conversation. I expected at least to have a sit down meeting on it.”

Kenney said he received an apologetic phone call after he sent his recent letter, but that he is seeking a written response that substantially addresses his concerns.

Efforts to reach Josh Mulhollem, the DEC’s aquatic invasive species management coordinator, were not successful on Friday, but earlier this month he said the negotiations between DEC and SOLitude were mostly focused on issues raised by the applicant, not the public.

“There were concerns among the applicants on whether they will be able to meet the conditions in the permit,” he said.

Craig Allsopp, president of the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association, has in the past expressed a sense of urgency in getting permission to treat the milfoil before this summer’s recreational activities like swimming, fishing and boating get underway. On Friday, he directed questions about Kenney’s letter to the state, and said he was focused solely on the aquatic invasive.

“We’re just interested in solving the milfoil problem,” he said.

After a three-year hiatus, QLLA is planning to restore public access for Hartford residents to Lake Pinneo this summer.

Kenney is not the only person who has concerns about the project. Other residents also have sounded off, to both the state and the town.

Joe Alvin, of White River Junction, suggested that the milfoil might be better managed by draining Lake Pinneo and allowing the sun to kill the invasive, in an email sent to Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar and the Valley News.

QLLA member Honey Donegan, who has been critical of the organization’s leadership in a variety of ways, submitted a public comment in which she said Sonar could seep into the groundwater through any small tears in the liner, and at the lake’s edge.

“High winds, torrential rains and other nature changes can bring the poisoned water to other areas where there may be sand the children play in, or nesting areas,” she wrote.

And QLLA member Niki Thran, who sits on the Hartford Conservation Commission, sent a letter to members of the state’s natural resources committees, in which she advocated for more opportunity for public comment. Thran, who is a physician, said research shows that the chemical byproduct that comes from the breakdown of fluridone is a carcinogen, and poses a potential risk for the fetuses of pregnant women.

The draft permit limits the concentration of fluridone to five parts per billion, which is significantly below the levels that are thought to pose a risk to public health.

Kenney said he’s not opposed to the project in principle — he just needs to learn more.

“This product might be fine. Everything might be fine,” he said. “I might be going to the extreme but that’s what I’m paid for.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.