Divers dredge up junk to keep Kiwanis Pond clean

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, May 26, 2013

— Ray Brown of Milton popped up out of the water huffing and puffing.

His SCUBA tank was out of oxygen, and he was cold from the 49-degree water at the bottom of Kiwanis Pond in Janesville.

In a gloved hand, Brown clutched a mesh bag filled with castoff treasures of blue-collar life in Janesville that, at one time or another, found their way to the bottom of Kiwanis Pond.

In his diver’s cache, Brown had aluminum beer cans of the Old-Style, Budweiser, Old Milwaukee, Coors and Hamm’s varieties.

Some had pull-tabs, proof that the cans have been lying on the mucky floor of the small fishing pond since at least the 1980s.

Other items included scores of golf balls, a half-dozen beer bottles of unknown age and origin and a whiskey bottle with its own leach.

The collection had the dank, musty smell of silt, fish and algae.

Brown and about a half-dozen other volunteer divers—some area Boy and Girl Scouts—cruised the 10.25-acre, 37-foot-deep Kiwanis Pond for hours Saturday in an effort to improve the pond’s environment as a fishery.

It was the ninth year divers have coordinated a cleanup as part of the Project Aware Foundation, an environmentalist diving group, said Bruce DeGarmo, a local dive instructor and cleanup organizer.

A sand quarry until the 1960s, the pond has long been a fishery for panfish, bass, walleye and catfish. But for as long as it’s been a honey hole for fishing, Kiwanis Pond has been a favored spot for people to dump unwanted items large and small.

Among items at the pond’s bottoms: an ancient metal safe, a 1956 Ford pickup truck, a giant tree stump, a sunken set of tennis trophies, numerous fish cribs—and a flatboat where some creative hobbyist apparently sunk a geocaching treasure box recently, divers discovered Saturday.

Some of those items are kept as curiosities for local SCUBA divers to view. They also create a varied bottom structure, which improves fish habitat.

Other junk is doing the pond’s environment no good. In more recent years, people have dumped old computers, fiberglass, truck tires and even a wheelchair into the pond.

In nine years diver have recovered more than 1,900 pounds of trash, DeGarmo said.

“It gets used as the dump du jour, and has as long as it’s been here. That, to me, is just sad,” he said.

DeGarmo said that’s why divers spend one cleanup day, and other free time during their dives throughout the year scouring for debris. They never know what they’ll find.

Brown said the visibility in the pond was as good Saturday as he has seen it. It allowed him to find small items even in the deepest parts of the site, even as fishermen in boats churned up the water around him.

The pond was clear Saturday because the water is still mostly free of algae this time of year—but also, possibly, because the city of Janesville in the last few years has taken steps to improve water quality in the pond, DeGarmo said.

Among recent measures, the city has created an outlet for storm water to run out of the pond, which cuts down on pond collecting silt and chemical and fertilizer runoff.

That keeps the algae bloom down in the summer and alleviates water pressure on the natural springs at the pond’s bottom, allowing the pond to recharge itself with fresh, clear water, DeGarmo said.

“The environment in the pond is improving all the time because of some of this stuff the city’s done. It’s not polluted, bad water like some people in Janesville will try and tell you,” DeGarmo said.

There’s an ongoing synergy between local divers who use the lake and those fishermen who like the odd bottom features, but want to see the lake stay clear of garbage. DeGarmo said Saturday wouldn’t be the last big cleanup of the pond for the sake of its two main users.

“This is almost like our (divers’ and fishermen’s) lake. We want to keep helping,” he said

Last updated: 10:32 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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