AMESBURY — Lake Gardner has been selected to receive some special attention from the federal government by way of a $46,550 stimulus grant to study how leaky pipes, lawn fertilizers and other sources of pollution are harming it.

The Powow River Bacteriological Investigation grant was announced yesterday by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, touted as the first step in discovering the reasons for excessive plant and weed growth and occasional E. coli hot spots in the lake.

As chairman of the Amesbury Lakes and Waterways Committee, which played an integral role in applying for the funds, Bruce Georgian said the group was elated at having been selected for the competitive grant.

"We are thrilled to get it, because there's a fair amount of competition for them," he said of the funding, which will pay to obtain water-quality data from the lake and assess the water that flows into it as far upstream as Tuxbury Lake. "It'll fund a professional study to assess and identify non-point source pollution from fertilizers, leaky pipes, etc."

So-called "non-point source pollution" covers a wide range of pollutants — such as phosphorus and nitrogen from lawn and garden fertilizers, bacteria from pet waste and waterfowl, oil and grease from parking lots and roadways, and sediment from construction activities — and is typically cited as one of the biggest problems facing lakes and waterways. In Lake Gardner, it's believed to cause blooms of invasive milfoil weeds that overtake the water body each year, E. coli troubles and high nutrient levels that cause plants to threaten fish populations. The Town Beach, located on the lake, is occasionally closed due to pollution problems.

"We have invasive weeds like milfoil that just take over everything, and then even noninvasive pond lilies are a problem," Georgian said. "Those are not necessarily nasty plants, but what happens is if there is too much nutrient in the lake, they just go crazy. They make the lake far less recreationally usable, and then they die and drop to the bottom and cause a lack of oxygen that kills the fish."

Georgian credits numerous volunteers for helping to secure the grant, which he said will precede applying for a larger grant to actually implement the mitigation plan funded through this one. The idea started with himself; his wife, Bernadette Lucas; and Karen Cargo-Slater, who all attended a Massachusetts Coalition of Lakes and Ponds seminar last spring, he said. It was there the trio learned what other communities were doing to obtain grants to fund studies and cleanups of their respective resources.

Lucas and Cargo-Slater followed up that visit with a workshop later on, which taught them how to formulate an action plan and apply for the grant monies. From there, the group received information and help from the Lake Gardner Improvement Association, the Lake Attitash Association and Amesbury's Department of Public Works director Rob Desmarais.

"The town submitted it — it was through Thatcher Kezer's administration," Georgian said. "They're all totally on board with this. They're the ones bringing the money to town."

Amesbury is one of 11 communities selected to receive a total of $750,266 in grants for projects to conduct watershed non-point source pollution assessment and planning, all funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. They were selected by the Mass DEP from a pool of competitive grant applicants.

"This is an organized approach to study and find out what are the root causes of the problem," Georgian said. "And then we'll take that information and put that into a subsequent grant."

Georgian credits everyone pulling together to acquire information and comply with application requirements with the fact that Amesbury was able to present a compelling case for funding.

"We had a good idea of what we needed," he said. "I think everyone pulled together a lot of facts."

State Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, who represents Amesbury in the Statehouse, remarked that the watershed grant will help protect one of Amesbury's most vital resources.

"This grant will help to protect and enhance Lake Gardner and the Powow River, two vital watersheds for the Town of Amesbury," Costello said. "In the long term, the residents of Amesbury will have improved water quality."

The study is the first step in making Lake Gardner the cleanest water body around, Lucas said.

"We have so many plants and the occasional closings," she said. "We want to find out what's going on."

Though she and others have committed to testing the lake and educating themselves about invasive weeds, the missing component has always been expert opinion from engineers and scientists who specialize in non-point source pollution.

"Until we have the study, we don't know the magnitude of the problem," she said.

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