Category Archives: Water

Mark Your Calendar for Two Important Water Events

Two interesting events about water in Acton are coming up this fall.

Sept. 22: Water Workshop

Back in the spring of 2017, Acton Town Meeting voted to request that the Board of Selectmen “commission a long-range (twenty year, future looking) study to establish the Town’s quantitative water needs, risks to the security and quality of its water resources, and the measures needed to protect those water resources.” The Town water study is kicking off next month with a half-day workshop organized by the Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC).

Representatives from the Board of Selectmen, the Acton Water District, Town staff, and selected Town committees will work together in small groups to consider five scenarios about possible future developments related to water in Acton. The goal is not to come up with solutions to these scenarios, but rather to develop a list of questions that future decision-makers will need to have answered in order to respond wisely should one of these scenarios come to pass. The emerging list of questions and information needs will inform the scope and emphasis of WRAC’s long-term water study.

Like all Town government meetings, the Water Workshop is open to the public. Attending members of the public will have an opportunity to contribute their ideas to the scenario discussions, and the public’s input will be incorporated into WRAC’s planning for the long-term water study.

When & Where? Saturday, September 22, 2018, 8:30am–12:30pm, Acton Town Hall, room 204.

Oct. 25: Panel Discussion of 1,4-Dioxane in Groundwater and Drinking Water

1,4-dioxane is a likely human carcinogen that is leaking into Acton’s groundwaters from the Nuclear Metal Inc. Superfund site and the W. R. Grace Superfund site. The contaminant has reached several of the Acton Water District public water supply wells. However, by blending water from the affected wells with water from other wells, the Water District has kept the level of 1,4-dioxane in the public water supply consistently below the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MassDEP’s) guidance level of 0.3 parts per billion. In the meantime, the federal Superfund program has begun an intervention to capture and divert some of the dioxane before it can reach our water wells.

The 1,4-dioxane situation is complicated, and many residents are unsure of what to think about it, and what to anticipate for the future. The Green Acton Water Committee and the Acton-Area League of Women Voters are sponsoring an educational panel discussion to help Acton residents better understand this problem. Three expert panelists will talk on various aspects of the situation, followed by lots of time for Q&A. The panel will be moderated by Green Acton Water Committee Chair and geoscientist Kim Kastens. Panelists and their topics are as follows:

  • Matt Mostoller, the Environmental Manager at the Acton Water District, will explain where 1,4-dioxane comes from, how it travels through the groundwater and arrives at Acton’s public water supply wells, and how much is found in our ground- and drinking water.   
  • A representative from the  Office of Research and Standards at MassDEP will share what is known about the impact of 1,4-dioxane on the human body, and explain how MassDEP sets guidelines for pollutants in drinking water.
  • Dan Groher, an environmental engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers will tell us about the efforts that are being made to intercept, divert, and treat 1,4-dioxane before it can get into the water supply wells.

When & Where: Thursday, October 25, 7–9pm, Acton Public Safety Building, 371 Main Street, EOC room.

Both events would benefit from active citizen participation. Please come and bring your questions. The Green Acton website will be posting additional background information prior to both events.


Acton Water District offers Discount for Low-to-Moderate-Income Seniors

The Acton Water District (AWD) has recently clarified and streamlined its discount program for low-to-moderate-income seniors.

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Water Committee learns about OARS Water Quality Program

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.

What would a good outcome to the Nagog Pond controversy look like?

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:

  1. scale the water treatment capacity to the size of the pond
  2. develop a protocol for timing water withdrawals and releases so as to minimize harm to the downstream ecosystem and aquifer
  3. collaborate on data collection and hydrologic modeling to provide decision-makers with answers to “what if” questions
  4. 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.

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Green Acton Position for April 2018 Nagog Pond Hearing

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.

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Nagog Pond & Nagog Brook

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.

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Green Acton Position on Town Meeting Article 26: Great Road Water Supply

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.

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New Version of Nagog Pond Draft Modified Special Permit Decision

Acton Town Hall has released a new version of the draft modified special permit decision for Concord’s application to increase its water treatment capacity at Nagog Pond. This document emerged from closed door sessions between the Acton and Concord Select Boards over the winter. It will be deliberated at a second “Remand Hearing” on Thursday, April 26, 2018, at 7pm in Acton Town Hall. [This is an update:  Originally posted date was March 29.]

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2018 Candidates for Acton Water District Board of Commissioners

The Acton Water District is an independent government entity, separate from Acton Town Government. As such, it is led by a Board of Water Commissioners, analogous to the Board of Selectmen for the Town of Acton; both serve as the legislative bodies for their respective entities. The three Water Commissioners are elected officials, who serve three-year terms of office. In the upcoming Town election, two candidates will be competing for one available Water Commissioner seat: Len Phillips and Erika Amir-Lin.

The Water Committee of Green Acton posed a set of six questions to the two candidates, intended to help voters make more-informed decision. The questions and the candidates’ answers are shown below.

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Select Boards schedule Nagog discussions

The Acton and Concord Select Boards have scheduled several important discussions about water from Nagog Pond over the coming weeks.

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