STOCKBRIDGE — The City Commission overseeing the health of the Stockbridge Bowl is redoubling its weeding strategy for the coming season and years beyond.
At two recent Stockbridge Bowl Stewardship Commission meetings, members unanimously endorsed a multimillion-dollar dredging program to remove silt deposits and control weed development at their roots as a top priority.
Because any dredging program requires approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection, it is not expected to begin until 2023 at the earliest.
The commission is also prioritizing the continued use of the city’s mechanical harvester as a short-term solution to combat any leafhopper infestations.
A third approach, using a herbicide as a chemical solution to attack invasive weeds, remains on the table but requires testing to assess its effectiveness.
WHY IT MATTERS:
State-owned but city-managed, the 372-acre Great Pond attracts tens of thousands of boaters, swimmers and anglers each season. There are more than 400 lakefront homes, a public beach, and private beaches owned by Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in Tanglewood. The annual Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon, held in September, features a watercraft competition on the lake.
Weed infestation has affected the lake’s health for at least four decades, although it was minimal during the summers of 2020 and 2021 for unexplained reasons.
Founded 75 years ago, the Stockbridge Bowl Association represents homeowners and other stakeholders. The association supports the testing of a herbicide treatment program for the lake. Testing could begin on certain sections of the lake this summer.
THE BACKGROUND STORY
Local authorities have been wary of herbicide treatments, which are standard practice on many of the city’s lakes, but the Stockbridge Bowl Association won a victory in Berkshire High Court in 2019 that allowed treatments to continue.
Michael Nathan, commissioner and individual member of the association’s board, suggested that townspeople’s support for lake management could best be achieved when “they see that all parties are in the same boat and rowing in the same direction. ”
It also sends a positive message to MassWildlife, he added. The state agency’s Endangered Species Conservation Program has established limits and conditions for lake vegetation control measures to protect a rare species of snail that lives along and near the shore of the bowl.
“We concluded that dredging was the most important project on so many levels — the well-being of the city, the health of the lake, the need to do it now,” Nathan said. He noted that the Bowl Association raised $1.5 million from members for a dredging project, boosting the city’s funding and grants.
“We all want to promote the healthy development of our Great Pond,” said Commission Chair Jamie Minacci.
Minacci explained that the state Department of Environmental Protection and MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program prefer a one-off solution — “two at a time if we can defend them.”
The four-year herbicide treatment program will require further consultations with the state’s DEP, while the two-year dredging project cannot take place at the same time, she said. The strategic and limited use of the city’s mechanical weed harvester, which will soon enter its second year of a three-year state permit, remains a No. 1 priority alongside dredging, commissioners agreed.
Eventually, when dredging and herbicide treatments are allowed in the same year, timing and location will need to be coordinated, Minacci said, adding that she hopes the Stockbridge Bowl Association will be on the same page.
SBA President Pat Kennelly has questioned “the narrative” that the dredger, herbicide and harvester options “can’t necessarily happen simultaneously.”
She cited an “incredibly productive” meeting in early March with state DEP and Mass Wildlife officials, which included Select Board Chair Roxanne McCaffrey, Selectman Patrick White, City Administrator Michael Canales, Conservation Commission Chair Ron Brouker, and others belonged.
According to Kennelly, an agreement has been reached to allow herbicide test plots in the lake while harvesting continues, not just for the upcoming season but beyond.
Most importantly, she said, state officials “have left it to us to determine whether our herbicide testing and/or treatments would affect dredging or vice versa.”
The commission’s recommendations, which were unanimously approved last week, will be sent to the city’s adviser, GEO Environmental Engineering.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BE_cfanto.