River News - October 2016
Time Once Again for Our Annual Fund Appeal
This year marks 40 years since a group of forward thinking residents raised their voices and said "heck no" to the proposed sewage lagoon for the East Branch. Imagine what our river might be like today if they hadn't formed the Westport River Defense Fund and stopped that
Since 1976 we've continued to be that "voice for the River." Here are a few ways we've done that:
- One of the longest continuous bacteria monitoring water testing data collections in the state.
- Collaborated with Town officials to secure multiple grants for water management initiatives and to lend technical assistance on reporting to the EPA and DEP.
- Over 5,000 volunteers have worked with the organization, many for multiple years.
- Over 50,000 children participating in school based and field study
programs, many of these children attending Alliance lessons for their entire K-12 schooling.
- 28 River Day festivals, free for the entire community.
The Alliance today:
- Has one of the largest memberships of all the Watershed alliances in the state.
- Has a professional staff with impressive credentials and extensive experience.
- Engages 2 emerging leaders as Commonwealth Corps members doing a year of service with WRWA. One of our current CC members was a Westport child inspired by the WEP curriculum. Here's what Ryan has to say: "I gained inspiration to learn about the environment and how to protect it. Now, through CC, I can give back to my community and protect what I think is important."
- Collaborates with SMAST (the School for Marine Sciences of UMASS Dartmouth) on a four-year peer reviewed EPA-funded study of oysters ability to remove nitrogen in Cockeast Pond.
None of this would be possible without your support. We are fortunate to have remarkable members who believe in our mission, care about the future of our watershed, and are willing to donate generously. We hope your Annual Fund support will continue again this year.
Update on Cockeast Pond Ecological Assessment and Use as a Natural Laboratory
The Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA) is thrilled to partner with the Coastal Systems Program (CSP) at the School for Marine Science and Technology-UMass Dartmouth (SMAST) on a new project funded by a grant from the US EPA Southeast New England Program for Coastal Watershed Restoration. UMass Dartmouth researchers have been awarded $525,967 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to quantify the efficacy and utility of oysters in removing excess nitrogen to promote estuarine restoration. See article on "Oyster Experiment Funded - Much Needed Scientific Analysis of Oyster Nitrogen Removal Efficacy" below.
This project follows a lengthy study initiated in December 2014 b
y SMAST and WRWA on the conditions in Cockeast Pond, where the water quality has been dropping steadily over the past decades. To simplify the funding of this multi-year investigation of the Cockeast Pond system, the study was divided into two phases (I/II). Phase I focused primarily on the structure of the pond and how it exchanges water with Westport Harbor. Phase II is focused on linking the nutrient loading from the watershed to biological endpoints of impairment in order to establish a nutrient threshold for the pond that would be restorative of health habitat and some recommendations for how to achieve restoration.
What Are the Issues?
- WRWA has examined pond water quality since 2008 to establish a baseline data set. The pond is clearly impacted by nutrients and not ecologically healthy.
- More frequent and intense algal blooms and increased plant growth degrade the pond ecosystem and affect its use.
- The pond contributes nitrogen to the Westport River, which is already above its healthy limit for nitrogen
- Our goals: to determine how tidal flushing, Hurricane Sandy, surrounding land use, and other factors may be affecting the Pond's health and develop an action plan to address any adverse changes.
WRWA funds an in-depth scientific study to determine the health of the coastal pond.
WRWA contracted UMASS Scientists to perform a multi-step, multi-year study to:
- Determine the extent of the pond's change in water chemistry and ecological health.
- Identify the main drivers of the change.
- Recommend actions for remediating, restoring and maintaining the pond's health.
Includes data collection on water circulation, biology, and other measures
1. Hydrodynamic Field Data Collection.
2. Tidal Flux Determination for Exchange between Pond and Estuary
- Tide gauges (3) circulation measurements
- Bathymetry-circulation measurement component
3. Benthic Infaunal Characterization (Assessment of Habitat Impairment)
4. Macroalgal studies-a look at the populations of large algal species within the pond
- Benthic grabs-sampling of sediments to determine animal species and populations of inhabitants, which is an indicator of pond health
5. Mid project reporting - Presentation on August 15, 2016 to stakeholders
Current and Upcoming Work
The reconciliation of all collected data with watershed nutrient loads will be undertaken through the development of a box-model for Cockeast Pond validated against the previously established water quality baseline. Using the box-model, it will be possible to examine the effect of various nutrient load reducing strategies in order to develop a suite of cost effective management options for restoration of the impaired habitat of Cockeast Pond. This information will help elucidate potential management options for Cockeast Pond. The final tasks (some of which were completed during the summer 2016 field season) for the Cockeast Pond Study are:
Data collection, modeling, and final report with management recommendations
Land use data-determine site-specific land uses and the associated nitrogen loads
- Habitat assessment-determine the health and diversity of flora and fauna of the pond ecosystem
- Time-series water column oxygen measurements- measurement of oxygen levels, an indicator of pond health
Final presentation to stakeholders
- Historical ecosystem study-an investigation of historic biological and ecological conditions
- Technical Report synthesizing all the information collected, this report will provide recommendations for management options
Oyster Experiment Funded - Much Needed Scientific Analysis of Oyster Nitrogen Removal Efficacy
UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) researchers have been awarded $525,967 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether the development of oyster colonies can help restore southeastern Massachusetts estuaries and salt ponds endangered by high nitrogen levels. The Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA) is thrilled to partner with the Coastal Systems Program (CSP) UMass Dartmouth (SMAST) on a new project funded by a grant from the US EPA Southeast New England Program for Coastal Watershed Restoration.
The grant is part of a $4.6 million program to develop innovative, cost-effective strategies to protect coastal waters in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The projects are intended to identify, test, and promote effective new regional approaches in critical areas such as water monitoring, watershed planning, nutrient and/or septic management, and resilience to climate change.
The UMass Dartmouth initiative, led by Dr. Brian Howes and Dr. Roland Samimy at SMAST's Coastal Systems Program, will use the Westport River and Cockeast Pond as a natural laboratory to measure how oysters can reduce nitrogen levels that destroy fish and other marine wildlife habitats. If proven successful, the strategy, which utilizes the natural power of the oyster to filter and clean water, could help reduce the need for high cost solutions such as expanded wastewater treatment systems. The first stage of the project is ongoing and involves a small scale viability test to determine if the oysters will survive in the Pond's fluctuating temperature and salinity conditions. Assuming oysters are capable of surviving in Cockeast Pond, a larger scale experiment will be initiated in the summer 2017 using locally grown oyster seed from Riptide Oysters of Westport, MA. This full scale experiment will be geared towards measuring changes in nitrogen levels in the pond as a result of oyster filtration of the water column and the corresponding rebounding of native aquatic species. The experiment will be continued into 2018 and 2019 to quantify the effects on water quality in Cockeast Pond as the oysters grow to full size and to determine the most effective ways to deploy large numbers of oysters for maximum water quality improvement and minimum affect on the useability of the resource. So far just over 30,000 oysters have been placed in the pond in 15 cages, constructed of high quality, industrial grade vinyl coated wire. The full scale experiment will involve around 500,000 oysters over approximately 2/3 of an acre of the 90+ acre pond (less than 1% of the total pond area).
WRWA's role in this project will be multi-faceted and will focus on both science and outreach. We have had a sampling program for Cockeast Pond for many years and will continue to perform all water quality sampling in coordination with the CSP. We will also be involved in the set-up of the various oyster gear as well as the deployment and maintenance of the oysters. Additionally, WRWA will engage in community outreach by distributing information to residents regarding the project and its results on our website and Facebook page. We will work closely with the CSP to include videos, data, and other relevant information gathered for the project. We will also assist in arranging and participate in local workshops and presentations.
"Addressing the nitrogen problem along the SouthCoast, Cape Cod and the South Shore will cost billions of dollars if we only consider traditional strategies such as bigger wastewater treatment plants and more sewer lines," Dr. Howes said. "We just don't have the time or money for that course. It is, therefore, imperative that we find soft solutions that leverage nature, in this case the oyster, to make progress."
These projects are funded through EPA's Southeast New England Program (SNEP). Since its launch in 2014, SNEP's mission has been to seek and adopt transformative environmental management. The program's geographic area encompasses the coastal watersheds from Westerly, Rhode Island to Chatham, Massachusetts, and includes Narragansett Bay and all other Rhode Island coastal waters, Buzzards Bay, and southern Cape Cod as well as the islands of Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. While this research project is being undertaken in the Town of Westport, the results are meant to be transferrable to all the towns in the region that are seeking cost effective and innovative ways to push forward with estuarine restoration. Moreover, this investigation does not preclude the Town from looking into ways to reduce nutrient load from the Cockeast Pond watershed as a parallel effort.
River Center Project Moving Along
|Architect's model of new River Center view from Old County Road
We are happy to announce that our River Center application to the Zoning Board of Appeals has been approved! At their September meeting, the board voted unanimously that our project is not substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood than the prior non-conforming uses and with a few conditions we can now move forward. They also granted a special permit to reconstruct and adapt our building in an Aquifer Protection District.
Engineering plans for the composting toilet and gray water treatment systems are nearly complete and will be submitted to the Board of Health within the next several weeks to obtain the required Title V permit. A formal application will also be presented to the Westport Conservation Commission for alterations in the riverfront area.
As you can see from the model that is shown here, final design details are nearly complete. We hope to put the project out to bid this fall and begin construction next spring.
The River Center will benefit the entire watershed community and offer an opportunity for the public to learn and experience the River firsthand.
Looking for Artists for Oars and Paddles Art Show
We have given out a good collection of donated oars and paddles for our winter art event! We still have several left for willing artists, waiting to be picked up and painted. Interested artists please call us at 508-636-3016 or email Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New 2017 WRWA Calendars Are In!
WRWA is happy to present the 2017 photo calendar. The beautiful photos taken within the Westport River Watershed were provided by contest winners Mark Goulding, Greg Stone, Amelia Tripp, Barry French, Betsy Szel, Laurie Wenham, Laurie Marinone, and David Cole.
Photo Calendars are available at WRWA headquarters, on line at www.westportwatershed.org, and at Lees Market, Partners Village Store, Country Woolens and AS Deams.
Chris Smither and Dar Williams will headline 2017 Summer Concert
Mark your calendar for our annual summer concert at the Westport Rivers Vineyard. Dar Williams and Chris Smither will be performing for us on Saturday, July 15, 2017. These well-known and profoundly talented singer-songwriters will be on-stage on the beautiful Westport Rivers landscape for an outdoor evening concert to benefit the Watershed Alliance.
Like last summer's very successful Tom Rush show, this year's concert is presented with The Narrows Center for the Arts and sponsored in part by Westport Rivers and Buzzards Bay Brewing.
Tickets are $40 for WRWA members, $50 for non-members, and will be $60 the day of the show. Don't wait too long-last year's show was a sell out, with over 600 guests enjoying the great music and pastoral setting on a beautiful summer evening.
Tickets will be available on the Narrows website at www.narrowscenter.org, and at the WRWA office and website www.westportwatershed.org, or by phone 508-636-3016.
Westport River Watershed Alliance Welcomes Second Commonwealth Corps Member
WRWA is happy to welcome Lauren Arruda as our second Commonwealth Corps Service Member. Originally from Freetown, Lauren moved to Westport two years ago, and has spent many summers at Horseneck Beach with her family. Much of her time now is spent studying Biology at UMASS Dartmouth, but she enjoys camping, hiking, and exploring nature whenever possible. As a Commonwealth Corps educator, she hopes to encourage young students to love and respect the world around them.
The Westport River Watershed Alliance's two Commonwealth Corps member are helping to strengthen and expand its Watershed Education Program (WEP). The program teachers more than 2,000 local students in grades K-12 each year about the importance of keeping the Westport River clean, and the healthy inter-relationship of our waters, soils, plants, animals and people. It also works with high school volunteers and encourages family involvement in outreach programs.
Save Your Lees Market Receipts
Lees Market gives 1% of the receipt total to the community charities. If you shop at Lees, please save your slips for us, the proceeds goes toward all our programs and projects that protect the River. Lees Market grocery receipts can be dropped off at our office. Thank you for helping and shopping at Lees!
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
The Great Horned owl is one of New England's most common owl species. Slightly larger than a red tailed hawk, and with a mottled coloration that helps them camouflage, it is difficult to see these nocturnal hunters during the day. The easiest method of tracking these birds is to listen for them at night. Their distinctive hoot can often be heard in the evening hours, with pairs calling back and forth to one another.
As nocturnal birds, the Great Horned owl only hunts at night, searching for prey to consume. Their large eyes, specialized feathers, and superb hearing allow them to detect prey from quite far away, making these owls extraordinarily good hunters. Usually, they hunt smaller creatures to eat, such as voles, mice, lizards and frogs. However, these owls have been known to hunt much larger prey, such as osprey, hawks, falcons and even other owls.
If you're looking to spot one of these owls, patience is key. If searching during the daytime, pay attention to the actions of other birds. If you hear alarm calls, it's possible that a bird has stumbled across a Great Horned Owl roosting for the day. It also may be possible to discover the owls roost by paying attention to the ground below your feet. These owls typically use the same roost every day, so a good indicator of an owl's presence would be to see an abundance of owl pellets scattered below a tree. If you do happen to come across a roosting owl, be sure not to disturb it. Keep your movements slow, and careful, and you might get lucky enough to watch it as it is resting.
Thank You to Our MANY Volunteers
|WRWA Volunteers gathered for a "Thank-You" reception in October