Category Archives: Water and Wetlands

Local Efforts Make the Difference for Water Conservation

by Ariel Maiorano

Remember the drought of 2016? Wells went dry, and reservoirs dropped precipitously low. The second-largest city in New England, Worcester, ran so low on water that they had to tap into additional sources (to the tune of over $1 million). Unfortunately, droughts are becoming increasingly more frequent and extreme, especially as our climate changes. Even though Massachusetts receives 15% more water annually compared to averages in the early 20th century, that precipitation now arrives in heavy bursts followed by prolonged dry spells. These dry times have enormous implications for municipal drinking water supplies. Luckily, there’s a lot we can do to protect those supplies, some of which is extremely low cost.

In a local letter to the editor published earlier this month in the Sharon Advocate , resident and town Water Conservation Estimator Paul Lauenstein shared  that the Town of Sharon reduced their annual water consumption to the lowest it’s been since 1984 thanks to public education and outreach. You can find the text of Lauenstein’s letter here.

Overall, the town of about 18,000 has reduced public well water pumping by one-third since its peak in the mid-1990s, from upwards of 600 million gallons to below 400 million gallons. Below is a figure from the town’s 2016 Water Quality Report, detailing the decrease in water usage since the 1995 spike.

Source: Water Quality Report for 2016, Town of Sharon

Lauenstein’s letter attributes Sharon’s success to adopting policies like rebates for resource-efficient appliances, and incorporating environmental education into public school curricula to shift local practices. The town Water Department also prioritized leak repairs and included reminders to reduce consumptions in water bills.  By taking low-cost and common-sense approaches to water conservation, the town successfully and significantly reduced community-wide water usage.

Water conservation offers a broad range of benefits, including improved public health, cost savings, resource availability, ecosystem value, and well-being of wildlife.  Sufficient water supplies are critical to communities throughout the Commonwealth that pump locally-sourced groundwater to meet the needs of their populations.

One of the many benefits of conservation listed by Lauenstein is the preservation of Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. This rare habitat not only provides spectacular habitat for local species and recreational benefits from wildlife watching, but it also provides the service of filtering and purifying water on-site that is later pumped by local wells. By conserving water to keep this resource healthy, Sharon is letting nature work for them and allowing the ecosystems to purify water so that built infrastructure doesn’t have to.  “Green infrastructure” exists in every community and by prioritizing its protection, communities can improve their bottom line as well as enjoy co-benefits like  flood reduction and improved climate resilience.

Conserving wetlands, which naturally absorb floodwater, is one way to reap the benefits of “green infrastructure.” Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon’s Shaping the  Future of Your Community Program encourages communities across the Commonwealth to identify naturally-occurring  green infrastructure in their own towns, and to take steps to conserve it. Check out our five-part guide that introduces you to what green infrastructure is, how to protect it, and how to re-incorporate it in already-developed areas. Ready to take the next step? Learn how to update your local bylaws and regulations to encourage these types of nature-based solutions.

Whether your community is conserving landscapes like Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, or is looking for more cost-effective ways to manage local water, we can follow the Town of Sharon’s common sense approach.

Ariel Maiorano is Mass Audubon’s Assistant Coordinator for the Shaping the Future of Your Community Program

Building Resilient Communities

Helping Massachusetts prepare for the impacts of climate change is among Mass Audubon’s top advocacy priorities. At the local level, our Shaping the Future of Your Community program is working with partners in the Resilient Taunton Watershed Network to help cities and towns make smart and cost-effective adaptation choices.

Thanks to an EPA Healthy Communities Grant, Mass Audubon and our partners have been working in the Taunton River watershed to provide resources to communities as they plan for climate change impacts.  This low-lying watershed was a critical pilot study for this work, as it is particularly vulnerable to flooding, is the fastest developing watershed in the Commonwealth, and nearly a third of the land is undeveloped, unprotected, and of high ecological value and critical for climate resilience.

Healthy natural systems provide many benefits to the challenges posed by climate change, from forests that sequester and store carbon dioxide to wetlands that act as natural flood absorbers. Nature-based approaches, also known as green infrastructure, to climate change adaptation can provide significant cost savings compared to to manmade engineering solutions. We focused our efforts on providing effective nature-based solutions into local land use management, development, and restoration efforts.

The Taunton River and its watershed are vulnerable to flooding. Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Marcbela

We held interactive workshops in Dighton, Halifax, Middleboro, Norton, and Taunton where we heard from local decision makers from more than 25 communities on the climate change vulnerabilities their cities and towns face. We discussed how to identify high priority lands for conservation with our Mapping And Prioritizing Parcels for Resilience tool, and provided a green infrastructure map for the watershed, developed by Manomet.  The project also offered case studies on successful examples of green infrastructure projects that already exist in the region. We listened to the unique challenges of each community and tailored these resources to their needs. We are also continuing our partnership with RTWN to help communities in the Taunton watershed implement their green infrastructure projects.

The training program left local communities within the watershed equipped to make choices that will make them more resilient to future impacts of climate change.  Now we are taking what we’ve learned and bringing it to communities statewide and beyond.  We are working with the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program to train hundreds of people working in 71 communities on MVP plans; and are sharing the training materials and lessons learned with many other groups including the Citizen Planner Training Collaborative and Rhode Island Green Infrastructure Coalition.

Participants in our workshops discussed how to identify high priority lands for conservation and incorporate green infrastructure into adaptation planning.

The Healthy Communities Project was a partnership among the Southeast Region Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), Mass Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Manomet, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

You can learn more about the project, and view the presentations and case studies, here.

Mass Audubon Receives Grant to Help Communities Restore Water Quality

Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program has received a grant from the Foundation for MetroWest to help communities protect and restore natural water balance and water quality through resilient landscapes. This work will focus on the MetroWest region of Massachusetts, which is experiencing climate change through more intense storm events punctuated by increased frequency of droughts – impacts that are only expected to worsen in the future. Events like these contribute to increased floods, erosion, and water pollution as well as periods of low or no flow in streams, which can stress fish and other aquatic life.

The impacts are amplified when we cover forests and fields that soak up and filter water with impervious surfaces, like sprawling developments and wide roads, that create water runoff that carries pollution into our waterways.

The Assabet River in Hudson, MA. Photo credit: John Phelan

We will introduce public and municipal officials to a more natural approach to land management through Low Impact Development (LID) and native plants. The project will demonstrate how local decisions can restore the water cycle and water quality while providing an attractive, high-quality landscape and improving climate resilience for current and future generations. The goal is to increase awareness and adoption of these cost-effective and practical techniques.

Our water resources are increasingly stressed, but conserving and restoring the natural landscape with native plants can offer social, environmental, and economic benefits.

 

Established in 1995, the Foundation for MetroWest is the only community foundation serving the 33 cities and towns in the region. The Foundation promotes philanthropy in the region, helps donors maximize the impact of their local giving, serve as a resource for local nonprofits and enhance the quality of life for all our residents. Since inception, the Foundation has granted $11.6 million to charitable organizations and currently stewards more than $15 million in charitable assets for current needs and future impact. 

Action You Can Take This Week – Water Protections Under Threat

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been ordered by the President to repeal a rule that defines wetlands and waterways protected nationwide under the Clean Water Act.

The “Waters of the United States” rule, issued in 2015, was developed following extensive scientific and public input.  Under the guise of returning power to the states, this repeal would eliminate protection for up to 60% of streams and wetlands, including areas that contribute to water supplies for 117 million people.

Photo credit: Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration

The EPA has opened a 30-day public comment period on the proposed repeal. Mass Audubon is submitting comments, and you can too. Ask EPA to keep protections in place for these streams and wetlands that are vital to both people and wildlife.

Water does not follow state boundaries. It is one of our most fundamental natural resources and must be protected, from headwater streams and vernal pools to main stem rivers and the ocean.

A Cleaner Housatonic River

Mass Audubon has submitted two court documents in support of the responsible cleanup of the Housatonic River.

For several decades through the 1970s, General Electric (GE) manufactured and serviced electrical transformers containing toxic and persistent PCB chemicals. During those years, GE polluted the Housatonic River and surrounding lands over several decades with hundreds of tons of PCBs, which pose threats to human health and wildlife. Efforts to mitigate this environmental disaster have been ongoing since the 1980s, and the “Rest of River” (an administrative term designating the river below Pittsfield) cleanup under this permit will take an estimated 13 years.  Even after the cleanup is completed, PCBs will remain present throughout extensive lands along and near the river. The chemicals will persist for many decades, likely even hundreds of years.

Mass Audubon’s Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary

The Housatonic River Valley features tremendous ecological, scenic, tourism, and community values and it is vital that these be protected and restored. As a directly impacted landowner—our Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the river in Pittsfield—Mass Audubon has been closely engaged in the planning process for the cleanup for many years. Canoe Meadows is located at the head of the “Rest of River,” where the methods for the cleanup will first be applied, and this sanctuary contains habitat that supports numerous rare and common species of plants and animals.

Mass Audubon submitted two Amicus Briefs – one of our own, and one in partnership with the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee – supporting a strong Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit governing the implementation of this crucial environmental cleanup project. This includes a requirement for off-site disposal of PCBs at a licensed, hazardous waste facility, and the dredging of Woods Pond in Lenox, where PCBs have settled for generations behind a dam on the river. We also support the permit requirements for compliance with the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, as cleanup activities will impact habitats of several state-listed rare plants and animals.

Housatonic River. Photo credit: mass.gov

We’ve urged that the final EPA permit make it clear that GE will be responsible in perpetuity for managing the persistent environmental contamination that will remain even after the cleanup, and that affected communities and landowners have input into the cleanup plan.

Read our full position statement on the Housatonic PCB cleanup.