By Larry Minear
[Part 2 of a two part series]
Last month the focus was on the history and deteriorating condition of Uncle Harvey’s Pond, a kettle pond tucked away between Pochet and Barley Neck Roads in East Orleans. This month’s article examines the impact of human activity, negative and positive.
“I visited Uncle Harvey’s Pond earlier this spring,” recalls Orleans Pond Coalition President Jim McCauley , “I was amazed at how much I learned about how everything people do affects our waters. Stormwater, fertilizers, invasive plants, septic systems, freshwater marshes, drainage, and other factors all contributed to last year’s algae bloom.”
A walk around the neighborhood illuminates the profound impacts of human activity in the form of road water run-offs and inroads by invasive (non-native) plants. One suspects the usual culprits: lush lawns that release phosphorus and nitrogen into the pond, aging and irregularly pumped septics, and a lack of vegetation to absorb and filter water before it reaches the pond. The largest single source of unwanted nutrients is from septic waste (perhaps as much as three quarters of the total), followed by storm water, and lawn fertilizer.
Town Hall documents confirm dramatic changes over the years. A map from the late 1930s shows only two homes in the entire area; a current map shows roughly sixteen. Open space, once abundant, has dwindled to only about six acres: three Orleans Conservation Trust parcels, gifts of George and Esther Beilby in 1977 and Robert and Margaret Wineman in 1981, and a parcel given to the town by Louis and Charlotte Carter in 1969. The Carter gift, “for the enjoyment of the inhabitants of Orleans,” hosts occasional school classes on field trips to the well-labeled native plant collection at Uncle Harvey’s landing.
But the extent of the problem is more serious than meets the eye, ranging well beyond the land fronting directly on Uncle Harvey’s Pond. Ponds provide an eye into the aquifer, the sole source of potable water for the town. A wider watershed feeds Uncle Harvey’s Pond, eventually draining into the upper reaches of Little Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic. It was once joined with Meetinghouse Pond by a fishway and perhaps even an ancient herring run. When land use patterns experienced major change, residents reported finding eels on their lawns.
The “hydrological link” between the two water bodies was cut by the construction of homes and driveways, interruption of culverts, and installation of a stormwater management apparatus near the town landing on Meetinghouse Pond. Some residents are pressing the town to re-open the connection, though the possibility of turning the clock back seems remote. In the end, better management of septic wastes in the wider watershed may be the most promising approach.
While much of the human activity has had negative consequences, some impacts have been beneficial. Uncle Harvey’s Pond has attracted AmeriCorps volunteers, working in collaboration with the town and local residents to push back the invasives. [see accompanying photo] AmeriCorps will return to the area for a Cape Cod workday in June to do battle with stubborn bittersweet and poison ivy. The volunteers will join local residents, some of them professional and avocational gardeners, including Betsy Furtney, who has spurred such efforts, blessed by the town Conservation Commission. A “Friends of Uncle Harvey’s Pond” group in formation hopes to mobilize educational and protective efforts. But “changing people’s behavior takes a long time,” cautions one activist.
The sewering of the Uncle Harvey’s Pond area was included in the Comprehensive Waste Water Management Plan approved by town voters in 2010,. It was to be in the last phase of a six-phase effort. In the latest round of funding reductions voted on at Town Meeting May 9, the downtown area still receives first priority but funding for ponds will be limited to work on Cedar Pond and beginning to assess our other freshwater ponds. A special town meeting is planned for the fall to fund other activities, some of them potentially pond-related, consistent with the town’s capital improvement plan. Clearly the competition for resources is intense.
Given the demonstrated benefits of strategies of long-term protection and investment, ponds like Uncle Harvey’s Pond clearly deserve greater attention and resources. Property values as well as human health and well-being are at stake. In the absence of a comprehensive town-wide approach, notes Carolyn Kennedy, chair of the town’s Marine and Freshwater Quality Task Force, “the flow of nutrients into our groundwater will continue. But everyone in town benefits from having clean water.” With no possibility of reversing population growth or of extracting unwanted chemicals already in the soil and water, the task becomes largely that of managing the risk of further and fresh damage.
Perhaps we need to approach the formidable challenges to our ponds with the vision and ingenuity that our forebears summoned in harvesting ice, threading waterways for eel and herring up inclines, and nurturing cranberry bogs with freshwater before it disappears into the ocean. The inscription on the stone commemorating the Beilby gift would provide an apt moniker for a wider effort. “This beautiful place,” the simple marker reads, “preserved for all time.”
-Larry Minear is an Orleans resident, is a board member of the Orleans Pond Coalition and its Pond Protection Committee. Contributions to this article from Bonnie Snow, Liz deLima, Robert Cunningham and Betsy Furtney are gratefully acknowledged.