Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Water Matters in Wellfleet ...

Last week I promised to report on the meeting held at Prez. Hall, a gathering entitled “Preserving Our Waters,” organized by the Non-Resident Taxpayer Association, so here goes …

Above, a view of a eutrophic pond, in Wellfleet. “Eutrophic” means a pond has received an excess of nutrients, which promotes a proliferation of plant life. Panel member Herb Gstalder said that changes have taken place in local ponds over the years. He explained that the particular topic of the evening was chosen due to the closing of Gull Pond in July. The health of fresh water in our area is defined according to 1.) whether there is fecal contamination; 2.) the eutrophic status; 3.) the presence of damaging chemicals.

Health Agent Hillary Greenberg and Beach Supervisor Suzanne Thomas do an excellent job of protecting Wellfleet’s ponds, said the next speaker, who emphasized community responsibility for keeping our ponds as pristine as possible.

Suzanne then picked up on this same theme: “The ponds are in danger of being loved to death.” Measures that have been taken over the past 20 years include re-vegetation of the old parking lot beside Long Pond and the installation of flush toilets at Gull. The take-away: we all need to do a better job of protecting our ponds.

The second half of the discussion was devoted to wastewater and a fabulous, innovative way of avoiding sewers through the use of oysters as a natural filtration system. Alex Hay first described the wastewater management plan, funded by Town Meeting, then Kurt Felix went into detail after a bit of history on Chesapeake Bay (water turnover used to take 400 days but is down to 2 to 3) and Wellfleet Harbor, which now has a reduced ability to remove nutrients, 10% less than previously. The plan to remedy the situation involves oyster propagation. A spot was chosen where Duck Creek and Mayo Creek merge. Cultch was added. So far, the results are promising with two million oysters now growing and filtering water. “The ultimate goal is to reach the regulatory limits and try to avoid sewers,” concluded Kurt.

Since no one planned to mention our sole-source aquifer at a meeting advertised as being about preserving our waters, that morning I had asked Co-President Lila Croen if I might say a few words about NStar’s plan for herbicidal spraying. I was given two minutes after the speakers had finished. Here is approximately what I said:

“On Cape Cod, we have a sole-source aquifer. The EPA New England Web site says citizens must protect their sole-source aquifer. NStar wants to poison our drinking water. Not only will we be affected. But our children and our grandchildren. Even the unborn. Everyone who comes to Wellfleet and loves our town. This will last for generations. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know it’s not good to put poison in groundwater, and herbicides are poison. They are made to kill. If you have any interest whatsoever in the future of Cape Cod, join me. We have to do something to stop this. I know one person cannot make much of an impact, but if we unite, we can stop this madness. The good news is that Senator Wolf is on our side …”

I then suggested attendees read the Cape Cod Times’ report from the previous day.

I’m not particularly good at public speaking and was infuriated when Lila proceeded to read from the Cape Cod Times article I had told her about in good faith earlier that day. She chose the paragraph claiming NStar’s contribution of herbicides is not significant compared to other sources and spoke with a voice that seemed to challenge my comments. While it is true that everyone on the Cape needs to stop using herbicides, NStar has persisted in putting forward erroneous information to defend its switch from mowing to spraying toxic chemicals. It felt to me that Lila was defending the utility company, although she probably intended to urge the non-residents to avoid their own use of herbicides, and I found this choice very unfortunate.

There followed a lively Q&A period. I learned from one of the panelists that the surface of our ponds corresponds to the top of our aquifer. Suzanne Thomas pointed out that Wellfleet did not have green lawns when she was growing up and challenged whether they were necessary. It is true that the suburban model for a “yard” does not fit here on Cape Cod. In conclusion, Curt Felix said, “What we are doing in Wellfleet will not only have an impact in Wellfleet, but in other places as well.” Pretty exciting, don’t you think?