Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink — in Lake Carnegie at least.
Princeton Water Watch, which conducts weekly tests on water quality, issued a progress report in January based on last year's assessments, indicating that the man-made lake has "moderate" pollution. Such levels make swimming in and ingestion of the water dangerous, it says.
The lake, created in 1906 due to a donation by Andrew Carnegie, will celebrate its centennial this spring with an exhibit in the Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library. Though it still serves as a practice site for crew as well as a scenic area for joggers and sportsmen, the lake's future as a swimming and fishing site is in doubt.
The Environmental Protection Agency's most recent water quality report from 2002, available on its website, confirms that the vast majority of New Jersey's waters, including Lake Carnegie, are "impaired."
"New Jersey has the worst water quality in the nation," Lexi Gelperin, the Water Watch community leader, said. "While only two percent of the nation's waterways are declining, 97 percent of the lakes, rivers and streams in New Jersey are becoming more polluted over time."
In conjunction with the initiative to monitor the changes in New Jersey's water quality, Water Watch has been conducting water quality tests on Carnegie Lake for three years. The group's report, written by Alistair Boettiger '07, shows the lake to have "moderate total pollution levels."
Each Saturday, Water Watch tests the health of the lake at three different sites, monitoring the levels of dissolved oxygen, phosphate, nitrate, pH and turbidity. The group's latest report reveals that the lake suffers from excess nitrogen, which stimulates the growth of bacteria and algae.
Pollution in the lake stems from a variety of sources. Goose droppings have made pathogenic fecal coliform levels so high that the lake is unsafe for swimming, according to Water Watch's report.
Runoff and non-point source pollution from the University and Stony Brook-Millstone watershed, which is between Kingston and Princeton, have also caused an increase in waste. The lake's natural barriers would have prevented some of the runoff if native plants hadn't disappeared due to deforestation and invasive species.
The report hopes that the lake is on the road to improvement. On some occasions, it says, bacteria concentrations are at swimmable levels and some sensitive invertebrates like scud are appearing.
What does the
"The lake used to be so bad that anyone who would go in would get rashes," Joseph Horvath, a safety officer for the physics department for 32 years, said at Water Watch's general interest meeting Tuesday. He attributed part of the problem to improper disposal of toxic materials in the years before the University had set standards.
"[Carnegie Lake] has improved but it could be much better," he said. "But who knows what's in there from the past."
In the 1960s, several articles in The Daily Princetonian reported that sewage from nearby towns was causing pollution in Carnegie. After such discoveries, the lake was dredged for the third time in 1971. It was reported that 1.4 million cubic yards of silt had accumulated in the lake because of erosion.
Members of University crew said that they weren't overly worried about the quality of the lake's water.
"I wouldn't love to swim in it, but it wouldn't be terribly disgusting," Erica Wojcik '09 said.
Manny Arreaza '06, a member of the men's team, said that he swam in the lake once. "I actually think it made me sick," he said.
Lake Carnegie's history
Daniel Linke, curator for the spring exhibit of the construction of Carnegie Lake, said that the main impetus for building the dam in 1906 was crew, but Carnegie, who paid for the construction, knew it would lead to much more.
Carnegie first heard about Princeton crew's need for a body of water to practice on in 1902 from his friend Howard Russel Butler '76, the coxswain for Princeton's 1874 team. Princeton crew was disbanded in 1886 because the Delaware and Raritan canal, on which it had once trained, was too crowded due to boat traffic from New York to Philadelphia.
Butler sent Carnegie an estimate of the cost at $118,000, but the actual total came to $450,000, $9.5 million in today's money.
By the time of the dedication ceremony, Dec. 5, 1906, Lake Carnegie had frozen over. Although Butler could not attend the ceremony, his brother William wrote him a letter describing the proceedings. Carnegie pulled up to campus on the Dinky and was "absolutely thrilled" to see a crowd of 100 boys skating on the lake, according to the Butler letter.
Carnegie was greeted by students who were given the day off from classes for the celebration. At the dedication ceremony in Alexander Hall that followed, Carnegie handed over the deed to the University.
"My earnest hope is that Princeton will win great laurels in future intercollegiate contests upon this loch," Carnegie said in his speech.
University President Wilson had originally wanted to persuade Carnegie to pay for an academic building instead of a lake. "Without that land — had it not been acquired by Princeton University — who knows how the campus would look today. Wilson may not have gotten what he needed in the short term, but in the long run it has been better for campus," Linke said.
Mudd exhibits construction of Lake
On April 9, the Mudd Library will open its photographic exhibit of the construction of Lake Carnegie with 50 photos on display and two guest speakers.
"I'm hoping this will give people a new appreciation of the lake," said Daniel Linke, curator of the exhibit.
A preservationist, Constance Grieff, who helped the lake gain recognition in the National Registry of Historic Places, is expected to speak about Lake Carnegie's lasting contribution to the community.
Kenneth B. Miller '72, Andrew Carnegie's great-grandson, will also speak on behalf of his family.
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