Crystal Lake Advocates Push For Alum Treatment

by Ryan Bray
Ali Hawk, a senior at Nauset Regional High School, addresses the select board Jan. 17 about the need for an alum treatment at Crystal Lake. With her is fellow Nauset senior Nicole Boyce.  RYAN BRAY PHOTO Ali Hawk, a senior at Nauset Regional High School, addresses the select board Jan. 17 about the need for an alum treatment at Crystal Lake. With her is fellow Nauset senior Nicole Boyce. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – From team dinners to family gatherings and swims with her “nonni,” Crystal Lake has played an integral role in Ali Hawk’s life.

The Nauset Regional High School senior was one of several people who spoke up last week to urge the select board to authorize and fund an aluminum salt treatment for the lake, which is suffering from poor water quality due to nitrogen and phosphorus loading.

Algal blooms have plagued the lake in recent years, with one particularly large bloom forcing the lake to close temporarily to the public in October. Without remediation, advocates told the select board Jan. 17 that such closures will only become more commonplace, thereby denying residents and visitors of a key recreational and agricultural resource.

Hawk said losing the lake would “completely alter the fabric” of the community.

“As a citizen of Orleans, I hope that I have a select board who wants to put the best interests of the community, no matter the age, first,” she said. “If that is true, save Crystal Lake by passing the alum treatment.”

Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can give rise to algal blooms, which in turn deprive waterways of needed oxygen. But aluminum salt, or alum, treatments work to disrupt algal growth by binding to phosphorus. The alum application would be applied to the bottom of the deepest part of the lake.

Richard Levy, who chairs the town’s marine and fresh water quality committee, said the committee has advocated for an alum treatment at Crystal Lake since 2021. He also noted that the treatment is advised as part of a management plan that’s been prepared for the lake.

While there is some debate as to the safety and effectiveness of alum in treating nitrogen and phosphorus loading, organizations including the Association to Preserve Cape Cod have spoken in support of the applications as an interim means of addressing water quality until longer term solutions, such as sewering, are implemented. The area of Crystal Lake is on tap for sewering in 2028.

“An alum treatment is the most pragmatic, cost effective tool available for immediate impact to improve Crystal Lake’s water quality,” said Craig Boyce, who abuts the lake on Monument Road and is a member of the Friends of Crystal Lake.

Advocates are pushing for an application by April, arguing that the lake needs to be treated before its waters get too warm. But town officials say that timetable might be aggressive, especially as a source of funding for the treatment has yet to be identified. The cost of the work is also unknown.

In an email last week, George Meservey, the town’s director of planning and community development, said that options for funding the requested treatment are being explored. But beyond that, the project would also need review and approval from the town’s conservation commission. The project would also need to go out to bid for a professional to conduct the application, he said.

Town Manager Kim Newman said following the Jan. 17 meeting that it’s possible a project could be put together in time for an application in or around Memorial Day, “but none of that is concrete yet.”

Newman also questioned moving forward with a project without a town meeting vote. This year’s annual town meeting is slated for May 13, later than the desired April timeline.

“Crystal Lake is a town resource,” she said. “So in addition to the funding, which was part of the issue [with the Pilgrim Lake alum approval], there is sort of an issue here of making sure it has the endorsement of the community.”

But Tom Coleman, also of the Friends of Crystal Lake, said that there is public support for the alum application. He said an online petition in support of treating the lake has received more than 800 signatures, including 200 from verified Orleans residents. An additional 100 signatures have also been collected in person, he said, including from 35 property owners abutting the lake.

For context, Coleman noted that the estimated 300 Orleans signatures are greater than the 217 votes that an article to conduct a similar alum treatment at Pilgrim Lake received at the special town meeting in October.

“The citizens are speaking loud,” he told the select board.

Nauset Senior Nicole Boyce spent her summers on Crystal Lake swimming, sailing and paddle boarding with her family and friends before moving to town full time in 2018. Her home abuts the lake, where her family has a cranberry bog.

“Every summer, people fill the entire stretch of the public beach, and I would hate not to hear children laughing because our lake is unstable and closed,” she said.

Kevin Galligan of the select board said he supported having Newman and Meservey look into what options might exist for funding an alum treatment this spring. Those could include utilizing previously allocated funding for such a treatment if it exists, or transfering funds from elsewhere in the budget.

“But there’s not much time,” he said. “There really isn’t much time.”

In the case of Pilgrim Lake, the town began conservation commission review to keep the project moving while it worked out options for funding the project.

“That’s probably an option here too,” Newman said.

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