Waterman Lake maintenance relies solely on private support

Waterman Lake maintenance relies solely on private support

GLOCESTER/SMITHFIELD - Waterman Lake is an often-overlooked but precious gem in Rhode Island's treasury of waterways, a place of natural beauty that, like all good things, requires hard work and effort to maintain.

Citizens for the Preservation of Waterman Lake (CPWL), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with about 200 members, has taken on the task of preserving the 280-acre man-made lake since at least the 1970s, raising money through frequent fundraisers, annual membership dues and the occasional private foundation grant, with no local, state or federal government support.

"We plug away," said Jeff D'Antuono of Glocester, president and 18-year member of CPWL, even when times get tight. The group has no loans, no debt, spends less than $10,000 in most years and, D'Antuono said, is in "decent financial shape, but we've got to keep it going."

To keep it going, the group in the past year relied on the generosity of the Gregson Foundation, a charity that D'Antuono said was established by former mill owners Hubert and Edgar Gregson about 40 years ago. The Gregsons, D'Antuono related, were local textile manufacturers who set up the foundation to give back to those northern Rhode Island communities that helped them succeed.

Although at the request of the Gregson family D'Antuono declined to reveal the specific amount the charity contributed to lake repairs, he made it clear during a wide-ranging interview with the Breeze & Observer that it was a considerable sum. Some $30,000 was spent in the past year, he said, and another $15,000 the year before, on upkeep of the dam, spillway and gatehouse of the lake.

An important reason that CPWL members wanted to tell the story of the lake to the local newspaper, in fact, was to thank the Gregsons for what D'Antuono called their "generous donations."

"We are especially thankful to Patty Nugent, trustee of the Gregson Foundation, who has recently donated generous funds to help accomplish our goals of rebuilding our spillway and other dam maintenance projects," added a formal statement from CPWL.

D'Antuono showed a visitor some of the work that was done with the Gregson funds in the area of West Greenville Road off Route 44, including cement repairs to the gatehouse, reinforcement of an earthen "high-risk" dam that is more than 4,000 feet long, and clearing away of tons of brush and rubble from alongside the 120-foot concrete spillway. "We made the spillway accessible for maintenance," he explained.

In addition to such major repairs, the citizens' group is responsible for monitoring the level of the lake and working with state inspectors from the University of Rhode Island to check on water quality in the summer months. "We keep an eye on the weather," D'Antuono said. "If, for instance, there is a prediction of heavy rain, it is to our benefit to let some of the water out of the lake so there is no flooding."

The CPWL website (cpwl.viall.org/), which displays detailed graphs tracking weekly water levels, indicates that special care was taken monitoring the lake during Tropical Storms Andrea and Irene and Hurricane Sandy. The website also reveals, in a message to members from a former president, the excitement lake residents must feel each spring as the weather warms:

"The Lake is FULL!" wrote Cathy Anger on May 30. "Water began flowing over the spillway Thursday morning. Happy boating, skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, swimming!"

On some maps, the lake is shown as "Waterman Reservoir," but that designation refers to its construction as a backup summer water supply for manufacturing purposes because, as D'Antuono noted, the lake was never used as a source of drinking water. It is part of the Woonasquatucket watershed of 50 square miles that includes the Woonasquatucket River, an American Heritage river that flows from its North Smithfield head waters 19 miles south into Providence, and Stump Pond, formally known as the Woonasquatucket Reservoir. Waterman Lake is on the far western side of the watershed, straddling the Glocester-Smithfield border at Route 44, Putnam Pike, with roughly two-thirds of the lake in Glocester and the rest in Smithfield.

Owners of nearby homes and businesses seem to appreciate the work CPWL does. D'Antuono reported few problems regarding voluntary payment of dues, with "close to 90 percent" of CPWL membership up to date on the annual $135 fee.

Frequent fundraisers help finance the group, along with the support of the commercial establishments on or near the lake such as The Village at Waterman Lake, the Glocester Country Club, Steere's Marina, and Camp Russell in Harmony.

There are no public amenities at Waterman Lake, such as boat ramps or public docks, but that hasn't stopped residents from enjoying it. D'Antuono, a union electrician, lives on the lake with his wife, Annette, and their two children. "It's a very fun place in the summertime," he said. "Mostly everybody knows everybody." The lake also supports plenty of wildlife. Swans, loons and herons along with lots of ducks have been spotted on the lake, D'Antuono said.

The Gregson Foundation has quietly supported various initiatives in northern Rhode Island, particularly in Scituate, Glocester and Smithfield, including grants to the Scituate Health Alliance in 2009 and to the Smithfield Preservation Society for restoration of the Resolved Waterman Tavern in Greenville Village also in 2009.