Volunteers will converge on Hammonton Lake Park today to pick up litter from the shore and surrounding Smith Conservation Area, but it will take more than a one-day cleanup to get the water in shape for swimming.

Despite the town spending $40,000 on aerators for the 62-acre lake in 2006, the water has remained closed to swimmers since July 2010 because of excessive fecal coliform levels. Swimming was allowed for only a few days in 2010, Recreation Director Monica Newton said.

The county health department requires a body of water to test safe for fecal coliform levels for two weeks before swimming is allowed, Town Business Administrator and Public Works Manager Jerry Barberio said.

“Every time it rains, fecal coliform levels jump and we can’t get the county to approve it,” Barberio said. “It’s because of the type of lake it is. It doesn’t flow like Lake Lenape.”

Fecal coliform are bacteria associated with the presence of fecal matter, and with potential gastroenteritis and other illnesses, said Tait Chirenje, a professor of environmental science at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.

Chirenje said the lake’s size and shape contribute to its slow flow. It is long, narrow and not very deep. It is also fed by small streams, he said.

Chirenje lives in Hammonton and volunteers with the Lake Water Quality Advisory Committee. He has stopped borrowing residents’ boats to go out on the water for sampling, he said, because the water is so shallow he hit submerged tree stumps and was worried about damage.

The slow-moving water tends to concentrate pollutants, resulting in it being mostly closed to swimmers since 1999, according to a report by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The lake is in a low spot in town. Dog and goose droppings, and other pollutants such as fertilizers that encourage algae growth, are swept into it by rainwater, Barberio said. The town also suspects some of its older, terra cotta sewer pipes are leaking, causing further pollution.

The committee will monitor water quality this summer to get baseline data on what is in the water and how weather affects pollutant levels. Sampling will be done with the help of student interns from Stockton, Chirenje said. He is designing the testing protocols and developing a questionnaire to gauge residents’ interest in swimming at the lake.

“The survey is to find out, if we spend a lot on the lake, are they willing to come back and use it for swimming, or have they abandoned it?” Chirenje said.

Many Hammonton residents now swim at the lake at Atsion Recreation Area in Wharton State Forest on Route 206, eight miles north of town, where they pay $5 to $10 per day, he said.

If pollution can be brought under control, there would be costs associated with hiring lifeguards and purchasing equipment, Councilwoman AnnaMarie Carpo said at a recent committee meeting.

In 2006, the town installed about 10 Clean-Flo aerators in the lake at a cost of $40,000. They add oxygen to the water but have not made enough of a difference to allow swimming, Chirenje said.

Aerators work by providing more oxygen for aerobic organisms (those that require oxygen), according to Clean-Flo, based in West Chester, Pa. Aerobic organisms are much more efficient at digesting organic material than anaerobic organisms.

“Aerobic organisms feed on organic material ... and assimilate these nutrients into ... the food chain,” the company’s website says. “By maintaining aerobic conditions at the bottom of a lake, fish, the top consumer, will also improve in quantity and quality as the fish aid in the lake restoration process.”

Chirenje said residents still use the lake for other types of recreation, often for canoeing and fishing. It is stocked with trout by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The town lowered the water level in the lake by about 2 feet for the cleanup to allow better access to the shoreline, Municipal Utilities Superintendent Anthony DeCicco said.

The cleanup was organized by the Hammonton Environmental Commission, the Hammonton Lake Water Quality Advisory Committee and the Hammonton Green Committee, with a lot of help from the Atlantic County Utilities Authority.

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