By Per John Ostman
Like many towns of Cape Cod, Orleans is defined by its waters. However, you may never have thought about it this way before – Orleans is surrounded on seven sides by water. If you live in Orleans there are four “sides” you know well, Cape Cod Bay (think Rock Harbor and Skaket Beach), the Atlantic Ocean (think Nauset Beach), Pleasant Bay (think, well, Pleasant Bay) and Nauset Harbor (think Town Cove and Nauset Marsh). But, there are a few not quite as obvious. Now consider all the salt and fresh water Ponds and Lakes (there are at least 37), and they count as another side. And how about our estuaries; that makes six sides. But the least remembered, is the seventh side, our ground water (think aquifer, lens, watershed), that interconnects everything. All told, Orleans may be singularly unique in being immersed, so to speak, in a water world in microcosm. Surrounded on seven sides.
As with the human body, Orleans is made up mostly by water. We depend on our waters for drinking water, food, many of our livelihoods, tourism and beautiful vistas and views to name a few. It’s a major part of what makes Orleans, Orleans. We derive so much benefit and should be naturally obligated to preserve its basic nature. One would think that such a relationship as this would be symbiotic, but, in the aggregate, we have not kept up our end of the arrangement. Simply put, our weak performance in managing and planning our wastewater investments, (think too much nitrogen, too much phosphorus, too many man-made chemicals), has seriously impacted our precious waters. Reminded by The old Boy Scout adage – “leave a campsite cleaner than you found it” – we’re not living up to our responsibility, our obligation. We have taken and not sufficiently given back. The current trajectory of our water quality is poor and must be changed. Healthy waters don’t happen by accident. Poor water quality is a man-made problem that can only be fixed by man.
Another impact of inadequate wastewater management and planning investment, that we don’t readily connect, is the development of our downtown. With nearly all the downtown Title V septic systems maxed out, there is nearly zero opportunity for growth and the development of second floor living spaces (think accessible housing for those precious young people we want keep or attract back to the Cape). A vibrant downtown benefits us all, and creates more opportunity – and taxpayers.
No matter your political persuasion, native born Cape Codder or wash-a shore, we all should be conservatives when it comes to being good stewards of our environment, especially our precious waters (the real definition of a conservative is “one who makes wise investments”). We have decisions and investments to make to preserve our water heritage and we’ve kicked the can down the road too far, for far too long. Finally, but slowly we’ve made a beginning to a plan and a solution. As we enter the weeks leading up to Town Meeting, think about what you will do. The votes we make now and for the next several years are legacy votes for our future and the generations after us. To some, of course, our water quality won’t degrade enough in their lifetimes to be worth the investment. “Why should I invest as I won’t be around to see it?” But remember, previous generations invested in you to get you here. What would you invest to ensure healthy waters for generations to come?
Orleans is defined by its waters. The seven sides of Orleans. No matter which “side” you’re on, you are a stakeholder in ensuring and preserving our healthy waters. At Town Meeting this May 9, 2016, come to vote for continued investment. Vote for progress. Vote for future generations. Vote for your home. As we only have one planet, we have only one Orleans…Tic Tock…
-Per John Ostman is a strategy and management consultant, civil and environmental engineer and is treasurer of the Orleans Pond Coalition.