23 Dec December 2023
Holiday Greetings from my family to yours. The calendar hosts 24 holiday celebrations during the month of December. Without listing them all, I would like to extend my wishes for a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa. For my friends of British heritage, Happy Boxing Day. And to all our troops around the world, away from their families while protecting our freedoms, Happy Holidays and thank you for your service!
The year has flown by and is quickly coming to an end. 2023 began with Smith Mountain Lake (SML) being touted as one of the best lakes in the U.S. and the announcement of SMLA’s inaugural signature event, A Day At The Lake.
Unfortunately, SML also experienced a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) and too many boating incidents. The HAB resulted in the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) issuing a swimming advisory for much of the Blackwater this summer while some of the boating accidents caused fatalities.
SMLA is committed to keeping SML clean and safe, and your Board of Directors is ready to get to work in 2024. Thank you for your support throughout the past year. Your membership matters!
On December 18th, SMLA announced its make a SPLASH fundraising campaign. We are asking everyone who enjoys SML to help us keep it clean and safe. I’m pleased to share that our advocacy began with the Commonwealth of Virginia and the response has been favorable. Both the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Virginia Tech have expressed interest in working with SMLA, Ferrum College and our 100+ volunteers to better understand the lake’s water quality.
SMLA is asking the Virginia General Assembly to support a budget amendment that would fund a two-year study by Virginia Tech to investigate and respond to HABs at SML. We recently discussed our request with the State Water Commission, and both Senator Peake and Delegate Bulova have agreed to carry the budget amendment as patrons. The legislative process is scheduled to begin on January 12th.
Your Vote Matters
Thank you to the record number of members who participated in last month’s election. It was exciting to see how many members voted online.
SMLA welcomes Bob Rayman, Doug Davidson, Jill Kurtz, and Vicky Wuerfel to its Board of Directors, and congratulates the Board’s newly elected 2024 Executive Officers.
Bill Butterfield – President
John Vidovich – Vice President
Nancy Davenport – Treasurer
Rob Sanders – Corporate Secretary
I would like to personally thank Mike Streff and Gail Phipps for their service on SMLA’s Board of Directors. Mike served as Vice President and Membership Chair for the past few years, and was instrumental for reversing the declining membership trend resulting from the pandemic. Gail has been a longtime Board member who contributed to SMLA’s mission by serving on various committees. I wish them both all the best as they continue to enjoy retirement.
Lake Quality Council Update
While the term Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) is familiar to many folks at the lake, the outbreak that led to a VDH swimming advisory for the entire Blackwater portion of SML came as an unwelcome and foreign experience. I am proud of the Association’s work to keep our members and the lake community updated and informed through our online HAB resource center, social media posts and town hall meeting.
In 2024, the Lake Quality Council is committed to increasing its HAB capabilities in a number of ways. Council Chair Keri Green has developed a comprehensive HAB work plan and shared it with DEQ, Virginia Tech, Ferrum College and several members of the Virginia General Assembly.
SMLA is investing in the equipment, supplies and partnerships to better understand lake water quality. The plans includes:
- Purchasing laboratory-grade microscopes and supplies for the identification of cyanobacteria,
- Launching the SMLA Dock Watch HAB monitoring program at docks, year-round,
- Implementing watershed investigations in areas hardest hit by HABs in 2023, and
- Training from the NOAA Phytoplankton Monitoring Network.
Water Safety Council Update
The Water Safety Council (WSC), chaired by Eric Cheney, is our longest running continuous council at SMLA. Their work does not always make headlines like injuries and fatalities, but make no mistake, the number of lives saved and injuries prevented because of the work of this council’s members cannot be exaggerated.
Every vessel safety check, boater safety class, check point, OUI check and charge, tow back to a dock, marine rescue, debris clean-up, public facing tent display, article printed, video produced, literature handed out, channel marker repaired, and many more; make a huge difference in the safety of SML.
The WSC’s efforts make a difference in the lives of our friends, families and visitors to SML. I cannot express my appreciation often enough for the work of this group.
Water Quality Monitoring
Our 50 individual and 33 team citizen volunteers with 11 substitutes were active during our normal 12-week summer sampling period. Tom Hardy, chair of the monitoring program, in combination with Ferrum College, developed three water quality gauges featured on the SMLA website. This summer, based on averages for the past 20 years, water clarity was lower, Chlorophyll-a was higher and phosphorus was close to average.
Under the direction of our Buffer Garden chair, John Rupnik, SMLA has worked with Mariners Landing and APCO to develop a buffer garden along the 5th hole at Mariners Golf Club. This buffer garden will serve as an opportunity for the public to visit a buffer garden.
Save Our Streams
The committee, chaired by Geoff Orth, surveyed 19 streams in 2023. Over 30 Certified volunteer monitors collected and identified freshwater aquatic macroinvertebrates living on stream bottoms. A survey of the diversity and number of specimens found is used to assign a water quality rating to the streams and to monitor that rating over time. This year’s program average score was 8.9, the same as last year. With 12 of the streams testing as fully satisfactory, the SML score of 63% exceeded the state-wide stream average of approximately 55%.
Vessel Pump Out
The Smith Mountain Lake Vessel Pump Out program is a cooperative arrangement between SMLA, the Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission (TLAC) and VDH. Pete Heyroth serves at the program chair, responsible for overseeing the weekly removal of sewage accumulated by vessels on the lake. This summer season, a four-person crew pumped 5,425 gallons of sewage from boats on SML.
Subsurface Aquatic Vegetation
The Subsurface Aquatic Vegetation committee, chaired by Joanne Houpt, reported that the annual survey by Kline Schmidt found no Hydrilla and some sparse native vegetation in 5 test locations. As a result, a full lake survey is not necessary in 2024. We will continue with an annual lake limited survey next year to determine what is need in 2025.