Horsley Witten Group - Working to Protect Ponds

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On Cape Cod, we love our fresh water ponds. We are certainly fortunate to have so many nearby for swimming, boating, fishing and general enjoyment. Cape Cod has over 900 ponds, ranging in size from less than five acres up to over 700 acres. All together, Cape Cod ponds cover about 17 square miles. Everyone has a favorite local pond. Fortunately, numerous towns have taken action to help improve their ponds’ health by creating coalitions that educate the public and spearhead local protection measures. Towns at the forefront of pond protection include Barnstable, Brewster, Eastham, Harwich, and Falmouth.

With that said, the water quality in many of our ponds is decreasing every year. Stormwater runoff, fertilizer use, septic systems, and even some recreational activities can change conditions in ways that may have significant negative effects on ponds of any size.  Numerous Cape Cod ponds are listed as “impaired” on the Massachusetts Integrated List of Waters (MassDEP 2014), suggesting that some ponds already have unhealthy and sometimes unsightly conditions.  At Horsley Witten Group, we are focusing much of our time and resources on helping local governments and groups assess, analyze, and improve the conditions of these ponds. Part of the solution is capacity building. We regularly help groups initiate public outreach programs and develop educational materials.

Over the past several years, we have worked with the Town of Brewster on an Integrated Water Resources Management Plan (IWRMP) to initiate change and help spread the word on how water is connected.

At the core of this effort lies a simple question: “Did you know that your day-to-day activities could change the quality of drinking water and fresh water ponds?” Brewster residents learned how their actions directly connected with different places in the hydrologic cycle. Chemicals flushed down the toilet, cars washed in the driveway, an hour spent feeding the geese, and fertilizing the lawn—all of these activities can affect water quality in downgradient ponds. In addition, pollutants on roadways (hydrocarbons, pet waste, etc.) can be washed by rain into waterways or down storm drains to soak into the aquifer. An Integrated Water Management Plan addresses these impacts on a town’s groundwater, surface water, and coastal waters by looking at water as a system.

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Another part of the solution is more technical, and HW staff helps local groups develop management plans, monitoring programs, stormwater retrofits and protective by-laws. We develop strategies to minimize pollution to ponds from the watershed perspective and can help municipalities look at these strategies through the lens of “cost-benefit” analysis.

Here are a few ways homeowners can make a difference even if they do not live directly on a pond:

1.     Convert lawn to lower maintenance landscaped areas or even a rain garden.

2.     Where you do have lawn, minimize fertilizer use and do it smartly. Carefully read and follow the instructions for application.

3.     Plant native plants. They require less water and less fertilizer...often none at all.

4.     Wash your car at a commercial car wash facility.

5.     Get your septic tank pumped regularly.  Every 3 to 5 years is recommended.

6.     Pick up pet waste and dispose of it in trash or compost.

7.     Join or start a local citizen pond group.

8.     Helpful links: The Massachusetts Year 2014 Integrated List of Waters http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/watersheds/integrated-list-of-waters.html

Author: Tara Nye, M.S., Environmental Scientist

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Horsley Witten Group is an engineering and environmental consultant firm located in Sandwich with offices in Boston, Providence, RI, and Exeter, NH. Learn more about Horsley Witten Group on facebook or at http://www.horsleywitten.com