Shutesbury hit with violation notice over water release at Lake Wyola

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 07-31-2023 12:34 PM

SHUTESBURY — A significant drop in the level of Lake Wyola in mid-July, apparently caused by the intentional release of water through the dam, is prompting the Conservation Commission to issue the town a violation notice under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.

“This was a significant event that had a widespread impact on a large resource area, as well as an impact, potentially down stream, on the perennial stream,” Commission Chairwoman Miriam DeFant said at the commission’s July 27 meeting.

At the meeting, the commission unanimously approved the violation notice, citing the state’s Wetlands Protection Act, regulations under the Massachusetts code, and the town’s Wetlands Protection Bylaw and associated regulations. The notice, though, is short of an enforcement order.

DeFant said that lake-lowering activities, and a “fairly dramatic decrease” in the water level, were documented by the commission between July 22 and July 24. The lake level was lowered 10 inches over that 48-hour period, she said.

Performance standards related to lowering the water state that the water shouldn’t go down by more than 2 inches in a 24-hour period. A rapid decrease can cause massive wildlife die off, DeFant said. The belief is that the dam’s gate was opened because the lake levels were unusually high due to recent precipitation, but no notification was made to the commission about the methods used to drop the water level.

“It’s very concerning,” DeFant said.

The commission has set an order of conditions and has enforcement oversight of two permits, one for the drawdown of the lake, to be done during the winter for maintenance and improvements, and the other for a road culvert project.

Town Administrator Becky Torres said the damkeeper has been instructed to keep the lake levels at within 1 inch over and 1 inch under existing levels, but misunderstood the bounds of the commission’s instructions.

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“The intention going forward is that we comply to what we should have from the very beginning,” Torres said. “There shouldn’t have been a deviation from that.”

Torres, though, suggested more clarity from the commission’s orders and performance conditions.

Commission member Mary David said there have been concerns from people living on and using the lake about the recent drawdown. The 7 inches drop David observed was affecting boats getting off their lifts, yet no communication was made with the commission.

The violation notice, member Scott Kahan said, could help improve communication with the town.

Commission member Beth Willson said she would like to see a monthly report on any changes that are happening on the lake.

DeFant noted that with respect to the culvert project, the commission was informed that a drawdown wasn’t going to be part of the construction sequence.

“It was not being requested, so we did not need to review it,” DeFant said, adding that there were serious questions about the dewatering plan for this work.

On July 7, the commission met to set an order of conditions on an emergency request, but DeFant advised that the town should put in an amended order of conditions that would give a clear path to enforcement.

The violation notice outlines concerns and asks the town to take remedial steps to address issues that have been identified.

“We’re not trying to be punitive, we’re not trying to embarrass anyone, or point a finger,” DeFant said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>