The Smith Mountain Lake Association has a new leader in 2020. Huddleston resident John Rupnik was elected to the position at the organization’s Jan. 21 meeting.
Rupnik has taken over for Lorie Smith who stepped down from the job after three years. She was elected as Gills Creek representative on the Franklin County Board of Supervisors in November.
“I just want to take this organization to the next level,” Rupnik said of his decision to become president.
Rupnik has lived full time at the lake since 2013. He moved to the area from Northern Virginia where he managed environmental research, development and demonstration programs for the Department of Defense.
Shortly after moving to the area, Rupnik said he became a member of the SMLA and later joined its board of directors. He helped launch a new website for the group in 2018 and has served as treasurer since 2015.
As the SMLA’s new leader, Rupnik said he has three major initiatives he wants to push forward. The most groundbreaking of those initiatives is a new way of monitoring the lake’s water quality.
The organization recently applied for grant funding to purchase electronic monitoring systems that can be placed throughout the lake and give instant feedback on information such as water temperature or levels of phosphorus, dissolved oxygen or E. coli.
The SMLA’s monitoring program uses volunteer monitors to check water quality at a variety of locations during the summer months only and results can take several days. With new electronic monitors, the information could be provided instantly, as well as year-round, Rupnik said. The information on water quality could even be transmitted continuously to the SMLA website and viewed on a smartphone.
The electronic monitors also would help with another initiative of Rupnik’s: to continue the SMLA’s effort to study of the possibility of zebra and quagga mussels in the lake.
This would continue the work that board member Casey Kroll had been conducting, Rupnik said. Kroll had been working to find out if it was happenstance that the invasive mussels have not reached this lake while infesting others nearby or if it was something to do with the lake’s makeup.
Rupnik said the reason the mussels haven’t invaded could be due to the lake’s calcium or pH levels. If it is not due to that, Rupnik said more work should be done to find ways to stop the species from coming.
Rupnik also hopes to continue improving the SMLA’s buffer landscape program. The program has SMLA members working with lakefront homeowners to develop buffer landscapes to reduce runoff and prevent harmful algae development in the lake.
“What we want to do is get more people interested in buffer landscaping,” Rupnik said.
In the years since the SMLA has offered the program, Rupnik said several lakefront homeowners have been interested in creating buffer landscapes but ultimately decided against it when they learned that there can be a high cost involved. Rupnik is currently working with Appalachian Power on a project to create a cost-sharing program that would assist in funding a portion of the landscaping.
More information on the Smith Mountain Lake Association is at smlassocation.org.