MIDDLEBURY — Robin Turman snaps photos of Hop Brook Lake and sits on grass near the beach, but she doesn't dare touch the water.
Turman, 49, of Naugatuck, remembers bringing her 5-year-old to the beach when she was pregnant with her daughter. That daughter is now 22 and was about to celebrate her graduation from nursing school as Turman sat near the lake last week to clear her head before the party.
Turman and her family have changed over the years, but one thing about the lake is familiar: It is repeatedly closed during the beach season because of high bacteria counts in the water.
Turman said most of the time when her children were growing up, the beach was open one week and closed the next. She said after all those years the situation is the same and she wishes she knew why.
"It's such a beautiful place, it's a shame," Turman said.
Hop Brook Lake, straddling the Naugatuck, Waterbury and Middlebury lines, has one of the highest number of summer closures of any beach in Connecticut. It is one of seven lakes in Connecticut operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Project Manager Diana Errico-Topolski said last year the swimming area was closed five times due to bacteria levels exceeding state standards. In a normal season, she said, there are five to 10 closures averaging three to five days each. During these closures, the park remains open for hiking, picnicking, mountain biking, fishing and disc golf.
According to the corps' water quality annual reports dating from 2001 to 2007, the lake was closed an average of 23 days each season, with a low of three days in 2005 and a high of 59 days in 2003. This puts Hop Brook on a list of corps lakes in Connecticut classified as having "definite water quality problems." Northfield Brook Lake and West Thompson Lake join Hop Brook on this list.
Christopher Way, operations manager of the Naugatuck River Basin for the Corps of Engineers, said when Hop Brook Lake was closed for the first time this season on June 13, the water sample tested contained 1,600 bacteria colonies in 100 milliliters of water. The state standard is 235 colonies. The lake was retested until the bacteria level met standards and was reopened June 21.
Way said this high concentration of bacteria can be attributed to street runoff and silt from brooks and tributaries. The runoff brings "a lot of things such as fertilizers, particularly phosphorus," into the lake.
He said the phosphorus attaches itself to silt particles and the bacteria thrive on it, especially in warm water and after heavy rain.
"Part of the problem that we have at this project is that it's an urban park," Way said. "Most of the watershed is developed."
Dawn Britton, 28, of Waterbury, said she is frustrated by all the closures but is used to the lake being closed on and off. When it is open, she and her children swim in the water, and although she said she sometimes worries about the quality of the water, they have never gotten sick from it.
"This is the only beach close to my home," Britton said. "With gas prices so high, this is good for me."
Originally published 6/30/2008 in the Republican-American©