Annual Drawdown

Every winter, the Candlewood Lake water level is lowered. This event is referred to as the “drawdown”. The Candlewood Lake Authority is often asked why the water level is lowered and why some years are deeper than others, who decides how far to lower the water, and when and how it happens. Like a lot of other things about Candlewood Lake, the drawdown is a complex process with many variables and many people and organizations having input.
What is the plan for this winter (2023-2024)?
This winter, due in large part to the need to help the plant community reestablish in Candlewood, the plan is for a shallow drawdown. This will hopefully give plants in shallower water a better opportunity to survive over the winter and grow next spring. Ideally, the drawdown can remain a tool for helping to balance out the plant community in the lake so it is present and part of the ecosystem, but not overabundant. You might also remember that the past two years were deep drawdowns (which might have contributed to the dramatic change in plants). This most recent winter was so that FirstLight could do maintenance to the dam. To help shallow species and plants recover, a shallow drawdown is the most responsible course of action this year.
FirstLight will initiate the drawdown season for Candlewood Lake, which includes Squantz Pond, after November 1, 2023, as weather conditions allow. The drawdown, executed in consultation with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Candlewood Lake Authority, will be completed with water levels returning to normal summer operating ranges prior to Memorial Day 2024. Consulting parties have agreed to execute a shallow drawdown this year. The normal summer operating range of the station is from 429.5’-427’, and the drawdown will target an elevation of 424’ with a 2’ winter operations pumping and generation range from 424’-422’. Due to unknown weather patterns, exact dates and associated lake levels are not available. Homeowners are therefore strongly encouraged to remove their structures, boatlifts, and docks from Candlewood Lake prior to the winter season to prevent ice damage along the shoreline. All work planned to occur along the shoreline requires prior permitting from FirstLight, who can be contacted at
In the past, it was typical for the lake's water level to remain high until the end of December or the beginning of January. However, FirstLight has the authority to reduce the water level as early as November 1.
Update: The Drawdown schedule was impacted by weather this year. See the press release at for an update.
Why is there a drawdown?
In the past, the annual drawdown has primarily been done to control the invasive plants in Candlewood Lake. By lowering the level of the water every winter, the goal is that temperatures will get low enough to freeze the plants and their roots and prevent them from growing back as easily the following year. This means that the deeper the drawdown goes (more water removed from the lake and more shoreline exposed), the more plants will be exposed to the air, and hopefully, more plants will be frozen and controlled for the next summer. Obviously, for the past two years, there has been very little plant life in Candlewood Lake, so controlling plants is not the goal. However, the drawdown serves a number of other purposes, including allowing the power company to conduct maintenance on their dam and pumps, as well as homeowners having access to their waterfront for maintenance. The drawdown also works similarly for zebra mussels, killing any of those exposed, which will hopefully help to manage their population size the following year.
How does a drawdown happen? How do I know when it will happen?
There is a lot of water in Candlewood Lake that has to go somewhere else to lower the water level dramatically enough for the drawdown. Candlewood Lake is a “Pumped Storage Reservoir” owned and managed by the power company FirstLight. On the northeastern tip of the lake in New Milford, there is a large earthen dam and a canal leading to a very large pipe. That pipe stretches from the Housatonic River, up the hill to Candlewood Lake. Being a “pumped storage reservoir” means that Candlewood Lake is mostly filled with water that is pumped up the hill and stored in the lake using electricity when there is extra. When there is high demand for power, water is let back down through the pipe using gravity to spin a turbine and generate electricity. In the winter, when it is time for the drawdown, FirstLight starts letting water back out of the lake until they reach the depth range for that year’s drawdown. FirstLight controls when the water depth goes down, what depth it goes to, and when it comes back up. The specific timing decisions are made based on a number of variables, including, but not limited to: the weather and how much water is in the Housatonic River. By draining some of Candlewood into the river, FirstLight works hard to make sure they don’t flood downstream of New Milford – sometimes delaying when the lake level drops until the Housatonic River level drops to safe levels. Generally, the “drawdown season” stretches from Dec. 1 to the following year's spring. However, the specific dates are subject to change every year, which is why FirstLight always recommends removing docks and other items from the lake regardless of drawdown depth to prevent possible ice damage.
Why is the drawdown level different from year to year?
So if that’s all true, why does the depth change every year? The drawdown is a really effective tool for managing aquatic plants because it exposes them all to the freezing air no matter what – but that means it also exposes everything else that lives in those shallow parts of the lake to freezing air too! Native plants, shellfish, and other critters that use that area for habitat and hunting all risk being killed by the drawdown the same way the drawdown kills Eurasian watermilfoil. To try to mitigate the impact on those helpful parts of the ecosystem, historically it’s been helpful to only do a deep drawdown every other year – giving those organisms a fighting chance to keep their population intact. The area of the lake that is exposed in both shallow and deep years is routinely devoid of almost all plants since the drawdown is such an impactful tool. However, if there was a deep drawdown every year, there would be substantially fewer plants in the lake – preventing fun sportfish (like our famous smallmouth bass) from having a place to reproduce and their young to survive being hunted. One other aspect to consider is that deeper drawdowns increase the rate of shoreline erosion in the lake. By exposing more lake bed to the air, you destabilize the sediment, and when the lake refills in the spring that destabilized sediment will fall off the shoreline and enter the water. This can contribute nutrients to the water that fuel algae growth, and harm the structure of the lake’s shore. By switching the drawdown depths every year, the rate of this increased erosion can be slowed substantially. If something changes in the ecosystem, for example, the loss of plants we are seeing in the lake currently, this schedule can be changed to help balance the ecosystem. In the case of the need to protect plants, another shallower drawdown might be necessary rather than switching between a shallow and a deep drawdown.
Why is this so complicated?
It can be easy to forget just how complicated of an ecosystem a lake is; each part interacting with each other in a complex “dance”. So as lake managers, it’s hugely important that we try to maintain a healthy balance of each of those parts whenever we think about impacting that ecosystem. The Candlewood Lake Authority (CLA) does not control the drawdown – FirstLight, with some requirements set on them by FERC (the federal agency responsible for overseeing hydropower projects), controls the depth, timing, and extent of the drawdown every year. However, we sit on a committee with the State of CT DEEP, federal agencies, and the lakes Zoar and Lillinonah Authorities (remember, the water from Candlewood eventually reaches Lillinonah and Zoar) to discuss the plan for the drawdown each year and advocate for what we feel is best for our lake based on the science and monitoring we do.