HALIFAX — Area residents filled the Great Hall of the Halifax Town Hall for a Water in Distress forum sponsored by Rep. Thomas J. Calter, D-Kingston, and Rep. Josh S. Cutler, D-Duxbury, Saturday, Sept. 24.
The standing-room-only crowd came to hear the many facets of the water situation, with Cathy Drinan, health agent for Halifax and Plympton, also representing the Monponsett Pond Watershed Association; Marianne Moore, Executive Secretary of the Monponsett Watershed Association; Jack O’Leary of Plympton, Chairman of the newly activated Central Plymouth County Water Commission, and Pine DuBois, Executive Chairman of the Jones River Watershed Association.
Calter began with an overview of the emergency legislation during a drought in 1964 that allowed Brockton to increase the level of Silver Lake, which has supplied Brockton with water since 1899. To do this, West Monponsett Lake would be dammed at Stump Brook, its natural outfall to the Taunton River, to force the water to flow backwards, through East Monponsett Lake, then to Silver Lake. This unnatural flow appears to be a major component in the stagnation of West Monponsett and the algae bloom of toxic cyanobacteria. Coupled with the huge increases in water demand by Brockton over the five decades since 1964, damage to West Monponsett Lake may be nearing irreversible, he said.
Calter said he wanted to bring together people who know the science behind the situation so a solution can be found. Two Brockton city councilors also attended to learn about the concerns of Halifax, Hanson, and Pembroke citizens. Calter introduced Councilor at-Large Winthrop Farwell, Jr., and Ward 6 Councilor John Lally as friends of the negotiations.
Cutler, whose district includes Pembroke and Hanson told the assembly, we are all neighbors. “We want to find a solution we can all live with,” he said.
Health Agent Cathy Drinan cited the measures that the Town of Halifax has taken to reduce phosphates in West Monponsett Pond which feed the cyanobacteria.
Septic systems within 100 feet of the Lake must undergo complete Title V certification each year, cranberry growers have reduced the amount of fertilizer applied to the bogs when runoff goes into the lake; for cranberry growers to fertilize their bogs when the sluice gate is open to allow runoff to flow back to the Taunton River and not into the West Pond. Drinan outlined the grants she and the town of Halifax have applied for and received to treat West Pond with alum to bind with the phosphates and make them unusable as food for the toxic bacteria. DEP this year recommended a heavy alum treatment that will cost more than $400,000. The City of Brockton would need to contribute to the cost in order to make that happen, Drinan told the group.
Marianne Moore, who lives on the shores of East Monponsett Pond, is the executive secretary of the Monponsett Watershed Association, asked those present to become more active and aware, because even a small number of people can be heard, and legislators were very cooperative and eager to hear and help.
“Until four years ago, I had lived my busy little life – why would these legislators want to listen to me?” Moore said. “We reached out to them and they came to us — these four little people from Halifax. I believe the problem can be fixed. I hope you all will become a little more active, more aware, of the active issues and try to keep moving the issue forward.”
Jack O’Leary, Chairman of the Central Plymouth County Water District Commission formed in 1964 encompasses eight communities: Brockton, East Bridgewater, Whitman, Hanson, Pembroke, Kingston, Halifax, and Plympton, to preserve the pre-existing recreational uses of the ponds … hunting, fishing, swimming, boating.
O’Leary has educated himself on the dangers of cyanobacteria and their toxicity.
“What they are,” O’Leary said, “are single celled organisms mid-way between plant and animal.”
They have some chlorophyll in them so they react to sunlight by blooming and they are present everywhere, in every pond. It’s when they “bloom” and grow uncontrollably, and reach cell counts above 70,000 cells per milliliter, that they reach what the DEP considers to be toxic or harmful to humans.
O’Leary told the audience that stagnant water is a prime factor in cyanobacteria bloom. He furthered that taking too much water from the ponds and reversing the flow of water from West Monponsett Pond leaves many areas in West Pond virtually stagnant, encouraging the algae bloom. If Brockton reduced its dependency on Halifax and Pembroke ponds by using other methods available to them, such as the Aquaria desalinization plant in Dartmouth, the ponds could be helped back to health.
“Our commission is answerable to all of our communities,” O’Leary said, and is working to protect the ponds.
As far as the health affects of the toxic bacteria, it can cause rash where it touches the skin. He also told that he has read about cows that died after being allowed to drink water laden with cyanobacteria. There is also a new potential health affect – it appears that in communities that live around ponds with cyanobacteria infestation some long-term health affects are appearing due to the algae becoming airborne, “which only makes it more urgent that we address this problem.”
Pine DuBois from Kingston, Executive Director of the Jones River Watershed Association, said what we are trying to accomplish is to make people aware of the dangers of diverting too much water.
The Jones River is the largest river draining into Cape Cod Bay. Silver Lake today is 5 feet down. As water is drained, the natural well springs collapse and they are gone for good, she explained.
“What we do to the environment day to day, matters to the people who come after us. So we really want to straighten out this problem,” DuBois said. “As I’ve explained to my friends over there from City Hall, Brockton does not have the ability to divert 30 million gallons a day from Monponsett Pond anymore. They simply can’t. If DEP allows them to do that, they will not be living up to its obligation to protect the people of the Commonwealth and the environment.”
The drought is predicted to continue.
“So what can we do about it? We cannot, nor should we, divert from Monponsett Pond or Furnace Pond into Silver Lake,” DuBois said. “Since 1964, there are so many more people living in this area, it’s not sustainable for them to be Brockton’s water supply any longer.”
Brockton spent an enormous amount of time, energy, and money – as did the rest of the Commonwealth – developing the Aquaria desalinization plant 20 miles south of Brockton on the Taunton River estuary.
From June 15 to Aug. 15, Brockton took 4 million gallons of water a day from Aquaria, then stopped.
“In my humble opinion, they should be taking that 365 days a year,” DuBois said. “Four million gallons a day would reduce the take from Silver Lake. They take 10 million gallons a day each and every day from Silver Lake.”
In 1909 it was less than 2 million. By 1955 it was 4 million. By 1964 it was almost 5 million. By 1981 it became 18 million.
The issue was lack of attention to infrastructure, DuBois explained. The pipes are over 100 years old — and leaking.
Brockton had 30,000 people then and now, 116 years later, a city of a hundred thousand people cannot count on drawing its water from these ponds.
“Brockton should be using Aquaria and Brockton should be working to tie into the MWRA and we should be doing everything in our power to help them do that,” she said, to a large round of applause.
Silver Lake, to support this effort, can give Brockton a couple of million gallons a day, she said. Not much more than that.
“You can’t take 30 million gallons a day from a six square mile resource and expect to sustain your population. I believe that the City of Brockton needs to reassess their finances to save their water resource. They need to use Aquaria and in the long run it would not be more expensive than using Silver Lake.”
She stressed Brockton should also be working toward getting onto the MWRA involved.
“Not a little bit in, but all in,” DuBois said. “Let’s start working on that now.”