The Mayfly begs to differ.

 

Back in 2000 I asked a fellow who was familiar with the upper Taunton River if he knew why the water in the Taunton River was so cloudy and murky. He told me that the Taunton was just a silty old river, that it had always been that way. Having spent a good deal of time on the Taunton and both the Town River and Nemasket his answer struck me as strange. The more I thought about it the less sense it made. After all the Town River and Nemasket weren't silty, neither were the Satucket or Winnetuxet. Why should the upper Taunton River be silty and murky when all of its tributaries flow with clear amber water? After all a river is only made up of the sum of its parts, its contributing tributaries. If none of the tributaries have cloudy murky, "silty" water then why should the Taunton? Furthermore what is silt? It is suspended sediments, soil particles suspended in water. Why should a flat river with very little turbulence and virtually no shoreline development be silty during low and normal flows?


The simple answer is that the cloudiness of the Taunton's water during normal and low flow is due to excessive algae, not silt at all. Excessive algae, or algae blooms as they are called, are the result of nutrient pollution in the water, primarily phosphorus and nitrogen. Excessive levels of these nutrients (nutrient pollution) cause algae to grow or bloom rapidly during daylight hours. As the algae grows it releases oxygen, the byproduct of photosynthesis. At night when photosynthesis ends, the opposite happens. The algae dies and decomposes, and this process of decomposition uses up oxygen. These algae blooms impact the rivers from both the outside perspective, aesthetically, and more importantly from the inside, aquatic ecosystem perspective.


Aesthetically, nutrient pollution turns clear water murky and cloudy, causes growth of algae and of green plants on the river bottom substrates and can impart a rather foul odor to the water. Nutrient pollution impacts aquatic ecosystems by reducing the overall species diversity in a given river or water body. Fluctuations in dissolved oxygen caused by the algae blooms favor the most tolerant species of fish and aquatic insects. Oxygen sensitive species like stoneflies and many mayfly species die. Low oxygen levels can also stress anadromous fish species which spawn in the rivers mainstem, American shad and blueback herring, whose juveniles must survive the dog days of summer in the river itself. It is at this time of year late July, August and September when oxygen levels are lowest that these juvenile fish are most vulnerable. These are but a few of the negative impacts nutrient pollution has on aquatic environments.

What is the primary source of nutrient pollution in the upper Taunton River? Extensive water quality monitoring by the Taunton River Watershed Alliance, Bridgewater State College and ESS group all indicate the Brockton Sewer Treatment Plant is the primary source of nutrient pollution in these rivers.

In a 2003 press release the EPA had the following to say about the Brockton Sewer Treatment Plant. "Inspections by EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the plant's own reports document equipment failures, operator errors, chemical feed problems and chronic bypassing of treatment equipment at the plant. This has led to excessive discharges of sewage solids, bacteria, ammonia and chlorine into the river, which flows to the Matfield River which downstream becomes the Taunton River. The discharges had the potential to cause significant aquatic ecosystem system damage and public health problems in the river, especially during the dry season when water levels in the river are lower."

While nutrient pollution may be aesthetically displeasing it seldom represents a direct health hazard to people engaging in river activities. However, high fecal bacteria levels in the water do pose a direct health hazard to people engaging in river activities. Along with finding elevated nutrient levels, water quality sampling on the Upper Taunton River has shown that bacteria levels in the water often rise well above the Massachusetts safe swimming standard. In other words if the river was a beach it would likely be closed to swimming many times throughout the summer months. This is a shame.

Where do we start, how do we fix it? Well the good news is we have already started. Local volunteers and the Bridgewater State College Watershed Access Lab have been gathering data on water quality here for many years now. For the past couple of years local volunteers have been organizing and synthesizing this data to establish and demonstrate what this data means from both the human perspective and the aquatic ecosystem perspective. Along with these efforts the Taunton River Wild & Scenic Study now underway on the Taunton River has in many ways re-energized and refocused attention to the river. Through the summer of 2003 into 2004 four new river stewardship groups have been organized by local volunteers in conjunction with the Taunton River Wild & Scenic Study and the Massachusetts Riverways Program. Five rivers on the Upper Taunton now have a voice, the Town River, Matfield River, Winnetuxet River, Nemasket River and the Forge River.

How do we fix it? We need your help. Sometime within the next couple months the EPA will issue a new discharge permit to the City of Brockton for their Sewer Treatment Plant. This permitting process is a public process, open to input and comments from any group or individual. In the past no one group or individual from this area has participated in this public process. The price we have paid for this complacency is evident in the quality of water which flows through the Taunton and Matfield Rivers. The stage is set, the pieces are all in place all the river needs is your voice, together we can make a difference. For more information and how you can participate please contact us.

 

 

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