The Water Closet for July 22, 2016
[pullquote] “The largely natural eutrophications our river and some ponds are experiencing are further exacerbated by nutrients from lawn, parking lot, and farm field runoff, and poor septic systems.” [/pullquote]In Florida massive blooms of phytoplankton have taken over swamps, lakes and rivers. Closer to home, from Middleton on up river in slow meanders, stretches of our Ipswich River are choked with dense floating populations of water plants and algae1. In places they have become a “brown noodle soup” as described in one paddler’s report. On an early July canoe trip from Route 114 up river, in the sinuous curves of the wide flood plain in Danvers and Middleton, we found a couple pounds or so of stems, leaves and fading flowers clinging to each paddle blade when lifted from the water. After what is usually easy quarter mile, two tuckered out paddlers in two canoes with two UMass film makers turned back down river and followed their partially broken path.
Despite over two months with less than 4-inches precipitation, compared with an average for May, June, and first half of July of 11-inches, the water level is relatively high. Plant growth peaks in the late spring-early summer months; massive amounts of water are taken up by them. Most is lost by transpiration to the air thus adding to the drought’s effects especially in upland soils. The many beaver dams keep the water in the watershed longer so its level remains fairly high despite the dearth of soil absorption and runoff due to a lack of rain. In full light without the shade of trees, the slow flowing water in the impoundments above the beaver dams warms and fills quickly with plant and algae growth. Beavers in these last two decades have drowned almost all the floodplain’s trees thus allowing in light which favors plant growth. Warmer waters in summers often become murky due to huge populations. The dense layers of surface plants above, shade those below. Less photosynthesis means less oxygen and more death which leads to increases in the decomposers, fungi and bacteria.2 As a consequence there is acidification and suffocation due to increased carbon dioxide. If there is no new substantial cleansing flow of cooler water from sustained rain, the body of water undergoes eutrophication, the name given to the phenomena just described. When it is as bad as in Florida the suffocated rotting organisms become food for bacteria which will in time clean the water but often while doing so stink, and in some cases send forth toxic gases. The Florida blooms are presently in the stinking-suffocating stages of eutrophication. As of Fourth of July no noxious odors emanating from the Ipswich stew could be detected by our admittedly less sensitive old noses. Some sections did smell very musty like rotting hay.
Gardeners, paddlers and Stream Teamers have too long been hoping for a few days of substantial rain. Today, July 18, none is forecast for the next week. July has only received 0.6 inches so far. The lawns are brown of those with town water who obey the ban on water use. Lawns irrigated from private wells are green. Middleton’s bylaw unwisely exempts private well owners from water bans. The Stream Team argues that the water passing in aquifers beneath our lots belongs to us all and therefore should be subject to conservation bans. We view the Earth’s finite water in a broader sense as belonging to all creatures. In a world with 7,000,000,000 people and increasing numbers everyday water is becoming an ever more critical issue for us all, even those in this water rich area. The largely natural eutrophications our river and some ponds are experiencing are further exacerbated by nutrients from lawn, parking lot, and farm field runoff, and poor septic systems. Excess phosphates and nitrates greatly speed up the growth of water plants and algae. Our water from the ground, deep aquifers, sky and runoff, needs more protection. The decomposers will clean up eutrophied water bodies but not if continuously overloaded with organic matter. Lawns don’t need water, fertilizers, and pesticides. These are luxuries we can’t in the long run afford.
Since 2005 Water Closet columns have been haranguing readers with these complaints. The protection of wetlands, water bodies, and aquifers should have top priority in all our endeavors. Florida is learning this the hard way now. People near or on the water are suffering from the stench; manatees and fish are suffocating and who knows how many other creatures are dying because humans want excessive amounts of sugar and beef. Runoff from cane fields and pastures are fertilizing Florida’s waters.
New England water bodies are getting a taste of what excess biomass is like. This is nothing new for different places in warm periods; however, they are warnings of what soon could be in more places for longer periods. Go paddle and swim the Ipswich River among the lush growth. You will easily see what could be and are in some water bodies. Many who have lived around lakes with leaky camp septic systems, once the accepted norm, can certainly well recall. The old Closeteer often remembers his childhood river, the Merrimack, when, especially in summer, the great river was a stinking sewer from Manchester on down to the sea at Salisbury and Newburyport. Twelve miles north of Manchester, above Concord, runoff from the mountains arrived clean. Three hundred years ago before Colonial livestock and the Industrial Revolution’s cities and dams it was clean and rich in fish all the way to the ocean. The Merrimack is fairly clean again from its tidal waters on up thanks to the Clean Water Act. Humans who now well know how to protect water must never let their guards down as the planet warms and our populations rise. We are in danger of eutrophying the biosphere.3
1 Potamogenton, milfoils, bladderworts, duckweed, water meal, filamentous algae, etc. See The Water Closet of May 27, 2016 on Potamogenton in its lovely early stages.
2 Measurements of Ipswich River channel water near Route 114, Middleton, sample taken 6 inches deep in plant choked area. 27 degrees C, 81 F, dissolved oxygen 0.9 mg/l (very low).
3 We remind you of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si. See October 2, 2015 Water Closet entitled “Pope Francis is on Our Side”, or better still his thoughtful well researched encyclical on line.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Apr||May||June||July|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.53||4.06||3.95||3.89|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||2.65||1.71||1.51||1.3** as of July 19|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 19, 2016 Normal . . . 9.8 CFS Current Rate . . . 0.99 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July
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