As Orleans continues to walk “the long and winding road” to improved water quality, Orleans Pond Coalition would like to remind readers of five very dedicated women who have worked more than 17 years to improve marine and fresh water quality and achieve healthy ponds. You may already know Carolyn Kennedy, Judy Scanlon, Joanne Figueras, Sandy Bayne and Judith Bruce. But if you haven’t met them yet, they are easy to find at Orleans’ Conservation Commission, Marine and Fresh Water Quality Task Force, Shellfish and Waterways Improvement Advisory Committee, Orleans Pond Coalition or Water Quality Advisory Panel — or in kayaks sampling a pond. Year after year, they gave voice to the ponds and vernal pools and estuaries whose waters define our town. Not all of them live in Orleans, but they understand how our waters know no town boundaries.
Our journey towards cleaner waters owes a lot to all the men and women of Pleasant Bay Alliance, Cape Cod Commission, and Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod, along with others who served as mentors and built a foundation of strong advocacy for healthy waters. But these dedicated Women Water Whisperers walked the talk, and, sometimes loudly, often quietly, kept the momentum moving forward. They collected water samples from our estuaries and ponds in every season and in all weather, launching kayaks, canoes and boats, aided by a host of inspired volunteers. Their samples support the solid science that will define the actions needed to improve water quality for every Orleans citizen — over 1200 citizen scientist visits, more than 700 individual pond trips spanning a decade and a half. In 2016 alone, 626 estuarine water samples were taken by 64 citizen scientists in 26 locations. Thousands of volunteer hours collecting data represents “money in the bank” for the town’s future efforts.
At times these Water Whisperers take on “Warrior” ways as they slog forward relentlessly in the face of rain, apathy, and lack of funding, keeping their eyes on the big picture. They come from backgrounds as diverse as Hospital Administration, Town Planning, Computer Science, Environmental Education, and Marine Biology. They are so well regarded that several were surprised at an APCC volunteer gathering by being humorously dubbed Pond Princesses and given tiaras and fairy wands. Even if the wands were magic, they alone cannot turn back the ecosystem degradation that results from human habitation and our infrastructure, although there is hope for the future.
Work is under way to create individual pond management plans to address the multi-source causes for their decline. With the positive vote at the October 2016 Town Meeting providing funding for water quality advances, including freshwater ponds, a Freshwater Ponds Work Group is determining a sequence of actions for pond improvements. At last, years of trend data for parameters such as dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll levels and phosphorus are being analyzed along with results of the just-completed study of stormwater outfalls, many of which pour degraded water into ponds.
As Orleans focuses on management actions to slow or reverse some of the troubling trends, the long view includes how our historic pond muck accumulation increases phosphorus levels in ponds. The scientists call this internal sediment regeneration. When ponds degrade, low dissolved oxygen levels create chemical processes that rerelease phosphorus from bottom sediments, providing nutrients for algae to prosper. Water Resource Service’s June 2014 “Investigation of Algal Blooms and Possible Controls for Cliff Pond, Nickerson State Park” demonstrates how this process can occur even in ponds with limited residential development. Orleans’ Sarah’s and Uncle Harvey’s Ponds experienced these same toxic cyanobacteria blooms, possibly from the same internal regeneration of phosphorus that Cliff Pond experienced. Every pond is at risk unless we address the continued accumulation of new pollutants from wastewater and runoff.
Please join us in thanking these Women Water Whisperers who have given voice to the ponds, along with others who came before them. Their dedication, perseverance and patience created this opportunity to move forward using sound scientific principles.
Should you bump into one of them, ask what you can do to help. Support them by taking steps to reduce stormwater runoff on your property, reduce your lawn areas and minimize or stop fertilizer and pesticide use of all kinds. Get your septic tank pumped regularly; don’t put chemicals down your drains. If you live near a water body, seek the Conservation Commission’s help in filing to remove invasive plant materials. Add native plants to your 100′ buffer to improve infiltration — those not on waterfront need to know that native plants with a diversity of root systems help filter wastes on all properties. Show your support at Town Meeting to pass articles reducing nutrient loads to estuaries and ponds. With your help, the long and winding road to healthy waters can be achieved by our community.
Orleans Pond Coalition is a volunteer organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing the saltwater estuaries and freshwater ponds and lakes of Orleans. Our thanks to Betsy Furtney who contributed to this article. Water, Water Everywhere appears monthly in The Cape Codder.