Mussel Up Or Waste Away

We love our water; we love to drink it, cook with it, wash our whitey whites in it, bathe in it and swim and fish in it. But once we’ve used it, the love affair is over. We just want to flush it out of our lives, which is what we’ve been doing for a good long time. Water conservation and its waste is not a new concept. Greek playwright Aeschylus in 470 BC penned, “By polluting clean water with slime you will never find good drinking water.”

Untreated, used water is yucky, even disgusting. It contains human waste, food scraps, soap, chemicals, waste from washers, toilets and storm runoff from oily roads, roofs and lawns. We aren’t the only ones who dislike waste water. It seems our fish and wildlife, migrating birds, and ponds and coastal areas are not too fond of it either. We already mourn ponds dead from nitrogen and phosphorus excesses, and the death knell has sounded for shellfish and coastal plants. With a 400 percent population growth rate on Cape Cod since 1950, we are where we are today – in effluent crisis. If we do not adequately address where we put our unwanted (four-letter expletive) we are “gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do.” That is, expensive and punitive explaining, to governmental bodies and judges, as to why we have not taken care of our ----. Most towns off Cape have employed sewering systems for decades, and when folks from those towns retire here, they are surprised to learn we have wastewater issues, and they are often in denial dealing with them.

At town meeting this May 1, we will vote on articles which commit to resolve some of our problems. If we don’t do it now, we’ll be subject to others telling us what we must do and when, with a much larger price tag attached. The wastewater committee (bless those dedicated souls), which has been studying this for a decade, has reduced an inch-thick report to a manageable pamphlet which can be accessed online, at town hall, the community center or Brooks Library. A yes vote is a no-brainer.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” The only reason a person might vote against the articles is if they are of a mind that since they might not be around in 10 or so years, they don’t want their taxes to go up $200 for stuff they won’t get to use. But here’s where the grownups separate themselves from the kids. Our forbears sacrificed for us, fought wars for us to preserve our way of life and planet, for a world they would never get to see. John Joseph Audubon knew that well, as reflected in his quote, “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”

I remember youthful Cape Cod summers spent wading through eelgrassed ponds hunting for blue crabs we’d sell to the neighbors for supper. I remember my grandmother’s lip-smacking fresh-caught mackerel, fried up in her perfectly seasoned cast iron pan, the adults devouring mussels pried off jetties and wharves. It is ironic that the eelgrass, which always annoyingly bound up my brother’s propeller, is now a barometer in determining the health of our waters, and a dearth of it, unfortunately, is the reality. And who would have thought that those black and blue ubiquitous mussel clusters which clung to thick, sea-weedy ropes anchoring wooden floats we swam around might someday cleanse our waterways of toxins. A 40-by-40 foot mussel raft can filter five million liters of water per hour.

It’s not as scary as it seems, folks. The 40 year, 230 million project is not much different from the municipal water system built 40 years ago which is worth $ 225 million. Educate yourselves, look to the future. We will utilize our “mussels,” our brains, and our pocketbooks to repair and preserve one of the most special environments in the world for ourselves and those not yet even born, so that children may forever build sandcastles on our beaches, watch birds soar past on their amazing journeys north and south, and admire the incredible biodiversity of flora, fauna and marine life that are the pearls in our Cape Cod oyster.