Community Organizing Kept Chemicals Out of Lake

By ABBEY GREENE/ecoRI News contributor

GOSHEN, Conn. — The crystal-clear waters of Woodridge Lake are used for kayaking, swimming, jet skiing, boating, diving and sailing. The northwestern Connecticut lake also is the source of drinking water for thousands of area residents.

Some 700 homes surround the popular 300-acre lake, providing residents a beautiful local getaway. When the lake’s authentic natural appeal was being threatened, Judy Fradin and her husband, Russ, jumped into action. The couple was shocked several years ago to receive a notice in the mail informing them that for the next few days the lake was off-limits. The Woodridge Lake Property Owners’ Association board of directors had decided to apply an herbicide called Sonar to get rid of weeds in the lake’s watershed.

Sonar is linked to numerous health issues and is banned in Europe, according to the Toxics Action Center.

“A group of us were totally livid,” Judy Fradin said. “The idea of putting toxic chemicals into crystal-clear waters was crazy to us. And they did it; we had no time to do anything about it. They actually put chemicals in the lake.”

This time last year, the board announced it wanted to do it again — reapply the chemical.

“We racked our brains as to what to do,” Fradin said. “The board at the time, really seemed to want this, but I knew we didn’t want it to happen again. So my husband and I came up with the idea of forming a nonprofit corporation to fight this, to fight for the overall environmental wellness and the surrounding community.”

The Woodridge Lake Conservancy was soon born.

The Fradins didn’t quite know where to begin, so they asked the Toxics Action Center for help. The center helped by organizing the couple’s goals and mission, and supplied the Woodridge Lake Conservancy with interns.

“We had eight interns. They were truly unbelievable,” Fradin said. “They worked so hard; they were so enthusiastic. We could not have done it without them.”

The interns helped lead a campaign called “Why Do I Love the Lake?” They went door to door and boat to boat gathering signatures and spreading the word about the Woodridge Lake Conservancy (WLC).

During the last 15 years, the homeowners’ board has made various applications to apply chemicals to reduce lake weeds, according to the WLC, including an application to apply diquat, a toxic chemical that has since been banned for use in the state. About four years ago, another application was made to the Connecticut Department Energy & Environmental Protection to use another herbicide that wasn’t approved for use in watersheds, according to WLC. The application was denied.

Fradin said the Woodridge Lake Property Owners’ Association board originally tried to stop the campaign with angry e-mails and calls to the police. Local authorities informed the board that no unlawful action was taking place.

Within three days, the conservancy’s team of interns had gathered 300 community signatures. Eventually, the board and the conservancy realized they had to work together. A WLC member has since been voted to serve on the property owners’ board of directors, and the Woodridge Lake Property Owners’ Association is now considering other ways to eradicate the weeds without using chemicals.

“I’d say it is a total success story,” Fradin said. “What I take away from it is community organizing really works. We could not have done it without the Toxic Action Center. They focused our thinking, helped us create our goals, and the interns were so dedicated and intelligent.”

Fradin is now working to build a regional movement to protect water resources in Connecticut, helping others living near lakes threatened by pesticides to push for nontoxic solutions.