“The Central Plymouth Water Commission is an outside-of-Brockton, non-elected, group of people with their own personal/financial interests in the water.”
Not true at all. In 1964 Legislative Act 371 was passed: “Establishing the Central Plymouth County Water District and authorizing the City of Brockton to extend its source of water supply.” This authorized the City of Brockton to divert surplus flow from Furnace Pond in Pembroke and Monponsett Pond in Halifax & Hanson into Silver Lake. Act 371 established the specific legislative rules and authority of the CPCWD. The CPCWD includes an Advisory Board with appointed members from each of eight cities and towns in the district: Brockton, East Bridgewater, Halifax, Hanson, Kingston, Pembroke, Plympton, and Whitman. Each town in the district gets one Advisory Board member, except for Brockton which gets two Advisory Board members (one appointed by the Mayor and one appointed by City Council). The District is under the direction of a three person Commission which is elected by the Advisory Board. It is required that one of the three Commissioners must be a resident of Brockton.
As required by Act 371 the members of Advisory Board and the Commission are all un-paid volunteers. Of course the people who are willing to volunteer and spend enormous amounts of their personal time working on a public issue tend to be people with a personal interest in that issue. Most people on any PTA are parents with kids in school. Most little league coaches are parents with kids on the team. Most members of the CPCWD Commission and Advisory Board are people who are impacted by water issues within the District. This is true for the volunteers from Brockton and from the other seven towns.
“The real objective of Rep Calter and the Central Plymouth Water Commission (CPWC), is to restrict Brockton’s access to its reliable drinking water supply so the town residents (who live closer to the lake) can boat, swim and have more of a beach for sun bathing.”
Not true (and an offensive accusation). The real objectives are to avoid severe health impacts to the residents who live near Brockton’s water supplies; to avoid irreversible environmental degradation across Plymouth County water bodies; and to provide sustainable drinking water supplies for all of central Plymouth County.
Monponsett Pond (part of Brockton’s drinking water supply) has been severely impacted with high concentrations of cyanobacteria. The safe contact standard is 70,000 cells per liter. Monponsett Pond has had concentrations exceeding 2.7 MILLION cells per liter. According to the US EPA, “Cyanobacterial blooms in the United States have been associated with the death of wildlife and domestic animals. They may pose a risk to human health through the exposure to contaminated freshwater, the ingestion of contaminated drinking water, or the consumption of contaminated fish or shellfish. It is also clear that cyanobacteria pose a potential risk to aquatic ecosystems when present in large quantities as their decomposition causes excessive oxygen consumption, which leads to an increased mortality rate in local populations due to low oxygen levels (hypoxia).” More recent research has shown that cyanobacteria and their toxins can become airborne and pose a health risk to people who don’t even come into contact with the water. These airborne toxins are being linked to cases of neurological disorders like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. In New Hampshire, researchers have found ALS ‘hotspots’ around lakes with cyanobacteria. Around these lakes the incidence of ALS is 10-25 times more likely than normal. Unsurprisingly, the residents around Monponsett Pond are extremely concerned about the health and well-being of their families. Likewise, the residents of Silver Lake are concerned that the billions of gallons dumped from Monponsett Pond into the lake next to them will pose the same health risks. As a result, these residents are doing everything they can to improve and protect the water quality of Monponsett Pond and Silver Lake.
Brockton’s unsustainable water withdrawals also lead to significant environmental impacts. These have cascading effects on the regional ecosystem and economy. For example, Silver Lake should naturally flow out to the Jones River but most of the time it does not because Brockton draws the Lake down too far to flow. As of this writing (7/7/2016) it has been 16 months since the last time Silver Lake flowed out to the Jones River. Other stretches of no-flow have been even longer. As a result the upper Jones River is a trickle of what it should be, and the remainder is running at about 25% of its norm and now struggles to support the fish and other aquatic life that it was once known for. Similar (though less severe) flow issues are present at Stump Brook and Herring Brook as a result of Brockton’s diversions of Monponsett Pond and Furnace Pond. The drawdown of Silver Lake does more than just cut off flow to the Jones River, it impacts the health of the entire lake. Brockton has drawn Silver Lake down by over 22 FEET and as recently as last October drew it down by over 5 feet. These massive drawdowns expose dozens of acres of shoreline leaving behind dead mussels, fish, and other animals. The suggestion that residents enjoy this degradation in order to “have more of a beach for sun bathing” is absurd and offensive.
Brockton’s over use of Silver Lake impacts the availability of drinking water to other communities the Plymouth County. Kingston is a good example. Kingston does not take any water directly from Silver Lake but the amount of water in Silver Lake influences how much drinking water is available to Kingston. Kingston’s water permit is based on the flow of the Jones River. The flow of the Jones River is largely dependent on flow out of Silver Lake. When Brockton draws Silver Lake down, the flow in the Jones River is reduced, and Kingston’s water supply is reduced. As a result Kingston recently was forced to over stress one of its wells outside of the Jones River Watershed which has now impaired that supply and cost the town 15 million dollars of water treatment upgrades. The objective of the CPCWDC is to follow their legislative directives, including “The commission shall also investigate all pertinent matters relating to the quantity of water to be obtained from available sources, its quality, the best method of protecting the purity of the water, the construction, operation and maintenance of the works for storing, conveying or purifying water and the cost of the same, the damages to property and all other matters pertaining to the subject.” This is exactly what the CPCWDC is doing. They are seeking to find sustainable water supplies and management practices for the ALL of central Plymouth County.
“This effort to restrict Brockton’s water source could easily turn into a Flint MI situation.”
Actually, just the opposite is true. Brockton officials and MA state regulators are repeating the mistakes of their counterparts in Flint and are putting the City at risk.
Just like in Brockton, the Flint water crisis developed over many, many years. Politics, aging infrastructure, economic pressures, and other factors all eventually came to head as a severe health crisis in 2014. The most important factors that finally resulted in this tragedy were:
- The City of Flint chose to put a higher priority on cost savings versus water safety. They opted for the lowest cost option (Flint River water) despite significant concerns about the quality of this water.
- Repeated concerns about the quality and safety of the drinking water were raised by citizens. These concerns were dismissed by Flint Water officials and by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MI DEQ). They insisted that the water was safe to drink. It was later revealed that they falsified documents in order to reach this conclusion.
- The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disagreed with Michigan’s DEQ about the safety of the water. EPA claimed that the water was not being treated properly and therefore may be unsafe. For over 6 months EPA and DEQ fought over this behind closed doors without informing the citizens of the potential problem. While they were busy debating between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead that pose a serious health risk.
The present situation in Brockton parallels the Flint, Michigan crisis in many ways:
- The City of Brockton continually cites cost as the primary driver for their choice of water supply. Despite citing cost as an issue, many of Brockton’s water management choices are actually more costly than necessary in the short-term and will ultimately be extremely expensive in the long-term. The City pays significant amounts of yearly funds for the contract with Aquaria yet they rarely use any water from Aquaria and get virtually nothing for that $6M+ yearly contract. Brockton has rejected state funds that were offered to help assess water quality and supply options. Brockton continues to operate under an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) from the state which limits the City’s ability to grow and therefore puts an economic strain on the City. The ACO could be lifted if the City addressed the water supply issues of the ACO, first expressed in 1991, to develop (and use) additional supply.
Repeated concerns have been raised about the health and safety of the water bodies in Brockton’s water supply. In Monponsett Pond the cyanobacteria blooms frequently exceed the State standards for swimming, yet this water continues to be part of the drinking water supply.
Not only is quality of water a concern, but also the quantity. As early as the 1950s Brockton’s consultant CDM identified that Brockton’s existing sources were insufficient for long term water supply. This proved to be dangerously true in the early 1960s when Silver Lake was sucked dry and Brockton virtually ran out of water. Emergency measures had to be enacted including Legislative Act 371 that allowed Brockton to access Monponsett Pond and Furnace Pond as part of their supply. These two ponds were popular recreational ponds then, and Act 371 states that “nothing in this act shall be construed as preventing the normal use of the aforesaid Furnace Pond and Monponsett Pond for bathing, boating, fishing and other purposes, nor shall the provisions of this act prevent the withdrawal of sufficient water for flooding or irrigation of cranberry bogs, nor shall the provisions of this act prevent the return flow of such waters from cranberry bogs to the aforesaid ponds. There shall be no diversion of water from Furnace Pond or from Monponsett Pond into Silver Lake, if, in the opinion of the department of public health, the diversion of such waters would endanger the public health.”
Because this was emergency legislation, it was considered a stop gap measure to save Brockton from burning, and not intended to be used and managed in the manner Brockton has for the past fifty years. This supply was known to be insufficient in 1964, yet the City pumped water without caution and nearly ran out of water again in the drought of the 1980s. An Emergency Declaration was issued by DEQE in 1986 and ever since Brockton has been under restrictions imposed by that or the ACO. Aquaria was intended to address this issue, but Brockton refuses to use its capacity, and instead pays dearly to have this supply in reserve.
Just like Flint, the warnings about Brockton’s water supply are being voiced but dismissed.
- Just like in Michigan, the state agencies responsible for protecting the quality and quantity of drinking water supplies and environmental health are dodging the issue because it is politically inconvenient. MA DEP (formerly DEQE) has the knowledge and authority required to address the regional water crisis but they have chosen not to so far.
“Is Brockton at risk for a similar water crisis that occurred in Toledo, Ohio?”
Yes, in fact the Toledo case is an even closer parallel than Flint. In August of 2014 a massive cyanobacteria bloom occurred in Lake Eerie where the City’s drinking water intake is. Over 500,000 Toledo area residents were suddenly caught without safe drinking water. While this was a surprise to virtually all of the residents it was no surprise to EPA and certainly should not have been a surprise Toledo officials. EPA had continually warned that the City was unprepared to handle a crisis like this. In fact, less than two months prior the EPA had written a letter to Toledo’s Mayor citing “the precarious condition of Toledo’s drinking water system and the imminent vulnerability to failure”. The City continually cited cost issues as their reasons for not addressing known risks to their water security. Of course emergency response is always far more expensive than smart planning and prevention. The crisis has cost the City of Toledo hundreds of millions of dollars more than it would have if they had addressed the issues in advance. The cyanobacteria blooms in Monponsett Pond are the same as the ones in Lake Eerie.
“The majority of the water comes from deep well springs that are underneath Silver Lake, which is “extremely cold,” helping to eliminate some of the blue green algae.”
There is cold groundwater that feeds into Silver Lake, but this has nothing to do with blue green algae (cyanobacteria). Surface water temperatures in Silver Lake can reach 80⁰ in the summertime. This is more than warm enough for cyanobacteria blooms. Because billions of gallons of nutrient-laden water are dumped into Silver Lake from Monponsett Pond each year there is also plenty of fuel for a cyanobacteria bloom to occur. If current water management practices continue it is just a matter of time before Silver Lake experiences widespread cyanobacteria blooms. In fact Silver Lake is only about 1/3 the depth of Lake Eerie and their surface water temperatures are about the same. Massive cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Eerie cut off safe drinking water to half a million people in 2014.
“If successful, Rep Calter and the Central Plymouth Water Commission will push a low-income, urban, community-of-color off of its reliable and long-standing water source for one that is unsustainable and much much more expensive. Just like in Flint.”
Just the opposite is true. The Flint crisis occurred because the City of Flint chose to prioritize cost over safety. Brockton is currently doing the same thing. It is the current Brockton water system that has proven over and over to be unsustainable. Rep Calter and the CPCWDC are working to find a solution that provides sustainable water supply to ALL eight towns of Central Plymouth County, including Brockton.
“If these folks get their way Brockton will no longer have access to our stable drinking-water source that the City has had legal/legislative rights to since the 1890s.”
Absolutely untrue. First of all, Brockton got the right to use Silver Lake in 1899 and began using it 1905. Brockton does NOT own Silver Lake, but continues to have the right to use it, as does Pembroke, Plympton, Halifax and Kingston, although they do not. Silver Lake is a Great Pond and is owned by all the people in the Commonwealth who also have rights to the lake. This is why Brockton will not be allowed to destroy it. Nobody has suggested that Brockton should have zero access to water from Silver Lake. However, Silver Lake is NOT a “stable drinking water source” at the volumes currently used. This has been known since at least the 1920s, and in 1955 when Brockton’s water consultant CDM calculated the Silver Lake could only provide 4.5 Million Gallons per Day (MGD). Brockton currently takes about 10MGD, when it is taking less than 1MGD from Aquaria. The deficiency of this supply was proved in the 1960s when the City almost ran out of water and emergency legislation had to be enacted to add supply from Monponsett and Furnace Ponds. It was still well known that this was inadequate and in 1974 CDM told Brockton that “It is imperative that additional supplies be developed for this system to provide sufficient water in the event of a drought.” Brockton didn’t heed the advice of its consultant and nearly ran out of water again in the 1980s. There wasn’t even enough water to fight the fires that were plaguing the city. After drawing Silver Lake down by 23 feet, Brockton had to pipe emergency water over land from Pine Brook in Kingston. That option is no longer available.
In the eighties, nineties, and again in 2001-3, and 2008 Brockton drew Silver Lake down more than five feet, and here we are on that path again. The supply in Monponsett and Furnace Pond is degraded by poor water quality, making much of it unusable for much of the year. The next drought could be now and Brockton still doesn’t have sufficient supply to avert it. “These folks” are trying to solve that issue before it becomes a crisis. “These folks” are suggesting that only a sustainable amount of water should be used from Silver Lake and that other sources must be explored to make up the remaining volumes that Brockton needs.
“Are the issues of the Central Plymouth County Water District only related to Brockton’s water supply?”
Yes and no. While the geography of the District was created based on the interconnected resources of the Brockton water system, the other towns in the District of course have their own water needs. The District was legislatively created in 1964 because the eight towns are linked by Brockton’s water system. Brockton’s supplies reside in Halifax, Hanson, Kingston, Pembroke, and Plympton. While Whitman and East Bridgewater are included because they have connection to Brockton’s supply.
Brockton’s use of water impacts the quantity and quality of water available to other communities. Kingston is a good example. Kingston does not take any water directly from Silver Lake but the amount of water in Silver Lake influences how much drinking water is available to Kingston. Kingston’s water permit is based on the flow of the Jones River. The flow of the Jones River is largely dependent on flow out of Silver Lake. When Brockton draws Silver Lake down, the flow in the Jones River is reduced by almost 20%, and Kingston’s water supply is reduced. As a result Kingston frequently has to go on mandatory water restriction even while Brockton continues to use Silver Lake with no such water restrictions. Brockton’s withdrawals have been impacting Kingston’s water supply since they first started taking in water in 1905. At that time the reduction in Jones River flow limited Kingston’s ability to pump water via hydropower.
Another good example is Halifax and Hanson. Monponsett Ponds have been suffering from extreme levels of cyanobacteria, a potentially toxic algae. These toxins have been linked to severe human health impacts for people who breathe the air near these lakes (up to 8 miles away!). These high levels of cyanobacteria are caused by a number of factors including local nutrient inputs and lack of flushing. Obviously the residents around the pond are extremely scared about the health risks so the towns of Halifax and Hanson have been spending enormous amounts of money addressing the nutrient issues. However, Brockton controls the flushing issues and has cited cost concerns (the price of using Aquaria) as a reason not to provide maximum flushing.