Water Closet for September 23, 2016
[pullquote]”Maybe water should be owned and managed by us all and that means government. Otherwise those with money for private wells tap more than their share from the ground where water flows slowly under all our lands.”[/pullquote]Sunday morning, September 11th, the old Closeteer and fifty or so other members of the Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) met on the drought-exposed bottom of the river’s channel below the Winthrop Road bridge in Ipswich. Most years in late summer we’d have been knee deep in water at that ancient crossing. The average age of the young-at-heart participants was about 60. Sadly no children attended. Wayne Castonguay, executive director of the association, spoke extemporaneously and well for fifteen minutes about poor management of water even during scarcities in the watershed. After, he answered questions. Kerry Mackin, former association director, also answered a few. Now and then sounds like thunder interrupted these exchanges as a car passed over the loose plank bridge above. Middleton’s Thunder Bridge 10 miles upriver earned its name from a similar bridge in the horse, oxen and early car days. The new bridge there of concrete and steel is silent. It was nice to hear the old Winthrop bridge reminding us of the past.
In 1638 John Winthrop, Jr., purchased the lower Ipswich watershed for 20 pounds from Masconomet, sachem of the Agawams. Four centuries ago the Indians without bridges except for beaver dams and fallen logs probably waded across where we sipped Dunkin Donut coffee and nibbled on croissants. The spirits of any English farmers listening to Wayne must have been mystified by talk of water department and private well withdrawals. Their fields above the river, especially those overgrazed at times, provided the river with excess nutrients and sediments. The rocks the breakfast group stood on in the now relatively well protected river receive neither manure nor much sediment laden runoff. A wide vegetated buffer along much of the rivers length from Wilmington down to tidal water was greatly strengthened by the Massachusetts River Protection Act in 1996. For almost three centuries between the light-on-the-land Indians without hoofed livestock and the growth of industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries the land was used for pasture, hay and cultivated crops. Early photographs show this clearly. The Closeteer while talking to a Hamilton IRWA member at the breakfast told her he’d read that in the mid 1800s there were over 80 working farms in her town. There is still much pasture surrounded by trees. The polo ponies of the wealthy don’t walk down to the river to drink as work horses and cattle often did. Kids don’t swim as often in the river anymore. Boring chlorinated pools have taken the places of lively swimming holes. In the 17th century at a similar gathering to this one, the people might have been joined by prolific free ranging pigs that must have enjoyed wallowing in the series of puddles the river becomes during droughts and is again this late summer. The breakfast participants did not happily wallow although it might have added greatly to drought PR if they had. Rather they politely fretted about mismanagement by towns, businesses, and us all. In Middleton and probably other towns many new houses have build-in irrigation systems for large chemically doused lawns. As we met, some owners were withdrawing from our aquifers to sprinkle on lush green lawns without grazing livestock or even playing children. Middleton in the past decade has averaged 60 gallons/person/day while animals in surrounding wetlands, streams, and river die. Many countries probably don’t use that amount per family per week.
According to knowledgeable Wayne, our area, averaging 50 or so inches precipitation a year, has plenty of water for all including wild animals if managed properly. The municipal water departments want to please their customers and make money, so sell until their water is largely gone regardless of irresponsible use. The towns and state, great advocates of business and capitalism, half-enforce water bans that are often too late and too weak. Maybe water should be owned and managed by us all and that means government.
Otherwise those with money for private wells tap more than their share from the ground where water flows slowly under all our lands.
We hope the IRWA will have events such as this yearly wet or dry. Our English forbears’ spirits present at the breakfast must have been amazed by the food of their enemies the French at table. Next time the coffee and tea should be brewed from river water. Food might be foraged from the river and rich floodplain. Crayfish, mussels, and sunfish would be nice. Indian spirits no doubt will silently chuckle at the strange folks’ clumsy attempts at foraging. They must often be dismayed while watching precious water used on yards without gardens of the “three sisters,” corn, beans and squash. Maybe our hosts Fred and Susan Winthrop will allow an Indian garden tended by the association near the breakfast site in one of their fields. The group may then enjoy a thanksgiving breakfast of wild and Indian foods washed down with Agawam River water.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||June||July||Aug||Sep|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.95||3.89||3.37||3.77|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||1.51||1.41||2.14||1.7**as of Sep 20|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Sep 20, 2016 Normal . . . 5.3 CFS Current Rate . . .0.14 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sep.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584