John Tucci ’87’s love of lakes began with family vacations to a lake house in Maine when he was a kid. Decades later, he and his wife bought property on Michigan’s Sherman Lake. But something alarming was happening in and around that water. “The first time I tried to take our newly adopted daughter for a swim,” he says, “instead of being on a nice sandy beach—which we’d had four years before—we’re in this mucky goo. The water turns brown; her bathing suit turns brown.”
Sherman Lake was being taken over and deprived of oxygen by Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive weed now found in bodies of water across most of North America. Tucci feared that within just a few more years, it would render the lake completely unsuitable for swimming, boating or fishing. Meanwhile, the standard treatment—killing the watermilfoil with herbicides—seemed to be merely “loading the bottom of the lake with compost that fueled the next year’s growth,” he says. “I started researching for alternatives to chemical treatment that would not only address the weed growth but make the lake healthier over time.”
In 2007, Tucci founded a business called Lake Savers to help Sherman Lake and others experiencing similar problems; it’s grown into his full-time job. Drawing from his geology major and his many years in business management, consulting and technology—and in partnership with scientists and environmental regulatory agencies—his team installs a system of tubes, compressors and diffusers in each lake to mix and aerate the water. Over months and years, this helps to control the watermilfoil and harmful blue-green algae, allowing beneficial microorganisms, insects and fish to make a comeback.
“We started out with a technology that was produced by another company, and we worked with them to scale it up for application in larger lakes,” he says, including Michigan’s Sherman and Indian Lakes, Illinois’ Turnberry Lakes and New York’s Greenwood Lake, among others. Lake Savers’ process, he says, has also helped improve the drinking-water supply in reservoirs in several states and Puerto Rico.
Tucci hopes to expand Lake Savers into larger national and international projects, “to clean up polluted waterways that have large economic consequences.” The company has started a small pilot project on Cape Cod, for instance, to figure out ways to address the excessive nitrogen in saltwater estuaries that is affecting the shellfish industry. Many bodies of water are polluted by runoff of fertilizers from surrounding farmland; Tucci would like to develop technology to harvest those nutrients from lake bottoms and reuse them in fisheries and on farms.
He would also like to publish scientific data relating to Lake Savers’ work. More systematic research needs to be done into how the company’s process affects local flora and fauna—but his customers’ anecdotal evidence about fish, frogs and birds, he says, is consistently positive.
Take Tucci’s own Sherman Lake: Not only has much of the brown “mucky goo” given way to clearer water, but “for the first time ever, we had a loon living on our lake for most of this summer.”
Katherine Duke ’05 is the magazine’s assistant editor.