Town of Monroe — On the surface, the struggle by residents of the Round Lake Homeowners Association to stock their lake with triploid grass carp seems to be a simple matter of competing interests.

Town of Monroe — On the surface, the struggle by residents of the Round Lake Homeowners Association to stock their lake with triploid grass carp seems to be a simple matter of competing interests.

The equivalent of aquatic cattle, the genetically engineered fish roam ponds and lakes, chewing on the submerged weeds that can tangle swimmers' legs and make it generally uncomfortable to enter the water. The association, envious of the clarity of neighboring Walton Lake, where the carp thrive, want the fish in their lake.

Bass fishermen, who count on the same water weeds to serve as habitat for game fish, don't.

The Town of Monroe and state environmental officials have been playing referee, trying to find a balance that can satisfy both sides.

"All we need now is a little detente," said Supervisor Sandy Leonard.

But that won't be easy, because the real issue lies not with the carp, the weeds or the bass, but the mortality of the lake itself. It's a problem that echoes across our region, once dotted with pristine lakes and other water bodies that are now straddled with the twin pressures of development and more recreational use.

"What is happening is the eutrophication (death) of the lakes," said Joe Birnbaum, a longtime resident of Round Lake and an activist involved in its preservation. "If there's nothing to change it, these lakes will become swamps or morasses."

Lakes naturally undergo a process of death as they fill with dying matter that feed more plants and algae that then choke off aquatic life. But that process speeds up as more nutrients enter the water from lawn fertilizer, sewage and other human-generated sources, Birnbaum said.

Round Lake is a 6.5-acre multiuse lake, shared by paddle-boat users, fishermen and swimmers, who swim mostly from its one remaining private beach, owned by the Round Lake Homeowners Association.

Residents, anglers and town officials all say they have noticed increasing signs that the lake is struggling under the pressures of more lawns, pools and houses going up nearby.

"People are doing what they need to do to get their zoning variances that will allow them to do what they want with their home, sweet homes," said town Conservation Commission Chairman John Ebert.

Walton Lake struggled for decades with similar problems, at times having aquatic plants that grew more than 20 feet long under the water. The introduction of triploid carp six years ago drastically reduced the plants, making the reservoir — used by the Village of Chester for drinking water — clear for fishing, wading, and non-motor boating.

Round Lake residents, however, cannot get state approval to use carp, partly because the fish do not eat the kind of plants that create obstacles to swimming, and partly because the agency has an obligation to protect the game fish that thrive on the weeds, said Department of Environmental Conservation regional spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach.

The DEC recommended the town use herbicides that work for the short term to kill the nuisance plants at the beach.

That, residents say, won't address their concern of getting rid of the weeds on a long-term basis, the way carp would. They can survive for up to 10 years.

Opponents of the DEC decision contend that the department reversed itself on allowing carp after fishermen complained that the fish might be doing too good a job in Walton Lake.

The carp is a far cheaper and more efficient form of lake management that will conserve Round Lake for future use, opponents argued.

Town Councilman Harley Doles said the town plans to continue pressing the DEC for the carp. Meanwhile, the town has allocated $25,000 to use herbicides and other forms of management to make the water safe for swimming, possibly by the end of summer.

"It's not that they're not addressing the issue," Birnbaum said of the DEC. "It's that they're not addressing it adequately."