On June 10, 2018, the Green Acton Water Committee welcomed Sue Flint, staff scientist for Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury, and Concord Rivers — OARS — as a guest speaker at our regular monthly meeting. Sue directs the OARS water quality monitoring program, which sends citizen scientists out onto the three rivers and their many tributaries to measure in situ water properties and take water samples for laboratory analysis. Two of OARS’ sampling sites are in Acton: one on Nashoba Brook off of Wheeler Lane, and one on the Assabet River at the Acton Canoe Launch.
Sue’s talk began with an orientation to the three rivers, and then walked us through OAR’s findings on habitat and water quality. Here is the full set of slides from Sue’s presentation, although the slides alone cannot convey the lively discussion and Q&A that accompanied Sue’s presentation.
Probably the most exciting finding, from an environmentalist point of view, was the success story of phosphorous in the Assabet River. Phosphorous enters rivers by runoff from fertilized lawns and fields, and in the discharge from wastewater treatment plants. Excessive phosphorous in fresh water systems enables explosive growth of plant life, which then falls to the river or pond floor and decays.
Powdermill Impoundment of the Assabet River in Acton in 2002
This process, called eutrophication, consumes dissolved oxygen in the water, degrading the habitat for fish and other animal life, especially in the slow-moving water in the impoundments behind dams. Four wastewater treatment plants discharge into the Assabet River: one each in Westborough, Marlborough, Hudson, and Maynard.
Watersheds of the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers. Wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the rivers are shown as triangles.
When OARS began its water quality monitoring program on the Assabet River in 1992, there was little-to-no effort to remove phosphorous from wastewater. As part of a nationwide cleanup of discharge from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) during the 1990s, the plants along the Assabet began to treat for phosphorous, first focusing on summer removal and then expanding to year-round removal.
By 2012, all four Assabet WWTPs were discharging at less than 0.1 mg/L total phosphorous. Total phosphorous level in the river dropped precipitously, and has stayed below the eutrophication threshold range (red line of graph below) for the last five years.
Total phosphorous data from OARS’ citizen scientist sampling program for July and August.
OARS data were essential in making the case for upgrading the Assabet WWTPs, and in documenting the subsequent success. The work is not yet done: levels of nitrogen, another plant nutrient, are still high, and there is still a dense carpet of aquatic plant life in some of the impoundments. But there is plenty of reason to celebrate this victory for citizen involvement in local environmental protection.
All residents of the SuAsCo watershed benefit from OARS’ patient but persistent work in science, advocacy, education, and stewardship. If you would like to learn more or get involved, OARS offers education programs for children and adults and a variety of short- and long-term volunteer opportunities. OARS water quality data and samples are collected by lay people, working under Sue’s careful professional supervision. Volunteers retrain annually to follow sampling protocols and chain of custody procedures that allows the data to be used as evidence in policy making. Green Acton Water Committee members Lucy Kirshner and Kim Kastens are OARS water quality volunteers, and new volunteers for this program are recruited and trained each spring.
Public Statement about Kelley’s Corner Infrastructure Project Approved by Green Acton Directors 2018-05-18 Sent to Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Kelley’s Corner Steering Committee
Green Acton looks forward to changes in Kelley’s Corner to help it become, in the words of the Acton 2020 plan, “a busy, walkable Town center.” Green Acton advocates for sustainable, walkable, ecologically sound and human-friendly land use, consistent with the Acton 2020 plan. The Kelley’s Corner Steering Committee (KCSC), started by the Acton 2020 committee, is charged with creating and implementing a plan to achieve the Acton 2020 goals for Kelley’s corner. So, there is a great deal of alignment between Green Acton’s goals and the KCSC goals.
The directors of Green Acton have some concerns about the current 25% design for the Kelley’s Corner Infrastructure Project. We do not have a shared position on whether addressing these concerns will require a delay in the TIP process or can be accommodated within the current design. We do share a concern that the goal of reducing traffic wait times has been prioritized too far “above” other goals. We plan to continue working with the KCSC to understand how best to address our concerns.
We share these concerns, and offer some suggestions on how to resolve them. We don’t have a shared understanding of which of these suggestions may represent the best ways forward. We plan to work with the KCSC to see if research and discussion will help us converge on the best ways of addressing these concerns
The destruction of large trees that are sequestering major amounts of carbon and contributing to quality of life, especially the trees on the north side of Mass. Ave. between Main Street and Charter Road. Suggestions include:
have an arborist report on the health and estimated remaining lifetime of these trees for use as guidance in judicious removal of any “senior” trees
fund sufficient trees to match the total of diameters of any trees that may be removed in the course of the project; these replacement trees do not all need to be sited in Kelley’s corner, and probably shouldn’t be
reconfigure sidewalks, traffic lanes, and bike lanes to keep the embankment as is in order to protect the trees on the north side of Mass. Ave. between Kelley’s Corner and Charter Road
ensure that the landscaping for the project:
responds to the need for “green visual corridors,” or vistas, along the length of the project on Mass. Ave. and Main St.
is designed with human needs in mind, i.e., more natural/fluid/organic than rectilinear (note how few straight lines exist in nature)
employs a diverse assortment of hardy, long-lived native trees and other plantings
The wider crossing distances at the main Kelley’s Corner intersection that create extra risks and concerns for people with disabilities and children, and may threaten the viability of parking-dependent businesses by removing parking. Suggestions include:
remove additional turning lanes to shorten walking distances
raise and widen crosswalks to create a more compelling zone of safety for pedestrians
provide additional persuasive information on how new traffic light systems increase safety for children and people with disabilities by extending the time allowed to cross — even with longer crossing distances
create specific parking plans to allay the concerns of business owners
lower the speed limit to that used for other arterial numbered highways in area towns (such as in Wayland at Rt. 27), and make any other “traffic-calming” changes that would implicitly communicate the new, slower limits
We urge the Committee to continue to work with concerned citizens to develop a plan that addresses these concerns, and to prioritize any “fixes” that would impact the Town’s path through the state and federal approval and funding processes. Green Acton looks forward to continued cooperation and communication with the Kelley’s Corner Steering Committee, Town Staff, and DOT and MPO officials, in bringing “a busy, walkable Town center” to Kelley’s Corner, and in finding a shared sense of priorities that center people and the environment in this critical project, which will shape our Town for decades to come.
There has been a lot of negativity around Concord’s proposal to expand its water treatment plant at Nagog Pond and Acton’s reaction to the same. In this post, let’s take a step back and try to envision what a good outcome might look like. A good outcome would safeguard the ecosystems of Nagog Pond and Nagog Brook, and would be a win-win-win for the three towns that share legal rights to the waters of Nagog Pond.
A good — and possible — outcome would:
scale the water treatment capacity to the size of the pond
develop a protocol for timing water withdrawals and releases so as to minimize harm to the downstream ecosystem and aquifer
collaborate on data collection and hydrologic modeling to provide decision-makers with answers to “what if” questions
construct and administer the water treatment plant as a regional facility with costs and water shared among the three towns
Kim Kastens floated some of these ideas in her talks at the First Parish of Concord on February 25 and at the Acton Senior Center on April 5. (Thanks to the attendees for their enthusiastic reception and insightful suggestions.) This post is not offered as a complete and final answer to the question posed in the title, but rather, as an invitation to consider a wider range of possibilities.
The controversy over Concord’s application to expand its water treatment plant at Nagog Pond has entered a new phase. Negotiators from the Acton and Concord Select Boards have brought forward another draft of the modified special permit decision, with a new set of terms and conditions. The Land Court has remanded the case back to the Acton Board of Selectmen, who will hold a hearing on April 26. A new round of public comments will be accepted, and the BoS will deliberate, and then vote.
If a supermajority (4 out of 5) of the Selectmen vote Yes, then the permit will have been approved with these new terms and conditions. Green Acton has taken a position urging the Selectmen to vote “no.” Our rationale for this position is explained below, followed by links to relevant documents.
Nagog Pond is a kettle hole lake situated on the border between Acton and Littleton. Water flows out of Nagog Pond into Nagog Brook, which flows into Nashoba Brook, and then into the Assabet River.
The town of Concord has been using Nagog Pond as a drinking water source, and in 2015, they applied for permits to greatly expand their water withdrawal and treatment capacity. This application has been controversial.
Article 26 for Acton Town Meeting 2018 is a non-binding resolution which asks Town Meeting to approve an inter-municipal agreement between Acton and Concord. In this agreement, Concord agrees to continue to provide water service to customers along Great Road (Rt 2A) in Acton. In return, Acton agrees to allow Concord to build their proposed Water Treatment Plant on Nagog Pond, and to forebear from efforts to secure water from Nagog for Acton or to limit Concord’s Nagog withdrawals.