October 31, 2019: The following is an analysis of the October 11, 2019 decision of the Massachusetts Land Court about Nagog Pond water rights, courtesy of Green Acton Water Committee member Carolyn Kiely, Esq.
Water is essential to life, and thus to health. Here in Acton, the Town Health Department oversees many water-related activities and entities. It attends to public and private wells, swimming pools, and the NARA Pond swimming beach, potential sources of groundwater contamination (including septic systems, underground storage tanks, and two Superfund sites), and potential sources of surface water contamination (including car washes, stormwater runoff, and “manure compliance”). The department also interfaces with the Acton Water District concerning water quality in the public water supply, and with the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District for water quality testing in the schools.
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. Continue reading
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.
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.
Please see attached letter from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names accepting our proposal to make official the name, Marys Brook (apostrophes are not allowed) for the perennial stream that flows from Main Street in Acton, through the Acton Arboretum, joining with Coles Brook near Taylor Road and Route 2 (map attached).
The brook is named for Mary S. Michelman 2/14/1960 – 12/17/2010, Acton citizen, former president of Acton Citizens for Environmental Safety (ACES), founder of Acton Stream Teams, and assiduous environmental activist who fought for clean water in Acton.
Mary gave hundreds of volunteer hours researching and urging EPA and W.R. Grace to clean up the industrial pollution at the Acton W.R. Grace Superfund Cleanup site.
Mary died of cancer in 2010. The non-profit organization Green Acton has taken up the cause of environmental protection and conservation of local resources.
Marys Brook signs and a small plaque can be seen on Minot Avenue near the Conant School, and affixed to a trail boardwalk over the stream that now bears her name in the Acton Arboretum.
The Green Acton Water Committee maintains a stream monitoring station on Nagog Brook. This being a low-tech, low-cost installation, our station requires that a volunteer scramble down to the site once a week to read the staff gage, which is like a giant ruler mounted vertically on a pole in the stream.
Last week (January 3), I (Kim) bundled up and trudged down through the snow to the site. The temperature had been below freezing continuously for more than nine days straight, with several nights dipping below 0°F. I was sure I was wasting my time and would find the brook frozen over.
But to my surprise and pleasure, the brook at the gage station was burbling along, as merrily as ever. The water level was a bit lower than it had been in recent weeks, probably because of ice upstream, but the stream was definitely flowing. (Click link below to view video.)
Nagog Brook 3jan2018_notFrozen
This observation is significant because it confirms that there is substantial groundwater input into the brook. The temperature of groundwater doesn’t vary much over the course of the year, hovering around the average annual air temperature. Here in Massachusetts, that would be approximately 50°F, according to the EPA. During the recent remand hearing on Nagog Pond, Dr. Peter Shanahan, a hydrologist, testified on behalf of OARS that drawing down the water level in Nagog Pond by increasing the water withdrawal into Concord’s proposed water treatment plant could threaten the cold water fishery of Nagog Brook. The threat is two-fold. First, there would be less water flowing over the spillway from the pond into the brook. Second, there would be less hydraulic head to drive groundwater flow laterally into the brook. Groundwater input keeps the brook cool in summer (good for fish) and warm in winter.
Thanks to Dr. Peter Shanahan for confirming (email 3 jan 2018) that groundwater input was the plausible explanation for Nagog Brook’s open water throughout our recent cold snap.
The dispute over Concord’s application to enlarge its water treatment plant at Nagog Pond seems to be coming down to a question of whether Acton’s elected leaders have the legal authority to say “no” to a development that is opposed by virtually every Acton resident who has submitted either oral or written testimony throughout the long series of hearings.
In this document, Green Acton member and former Selectman Terra Friedrichs has compiled cases in which various judges in Massachusetts have supported the local authority’s denial of a proposed project for various reasons. Continue reading
The dispute over Concord’s application to enlarge its water treatment plant at Nagog Pond seems to be coming down to a question of whether Acton’s elected leaders have the legal authority to say “no” to a development that is opposed by virtually every Acton resident who has submitted either oral or written comments throughout the long series of hearings. In this post we have compiled lines of reasoning from throughout Massachusetts showing that local authorities have extensive powers to say “no” if they believe that a development will be “injurious.”