ORLEANS — It was a cold day for a walking tour of the town's freshwater ponds, but members of the marine and fresh water quality task force made the effort Jan. 9 without mittens and parkas. Led by chair Carolyn Kennedy, they walked around tables covered with sheets of water quality statistics at town hall.
With some of the numbers collected by volunteers as far back as 2000, the data provided a picture over time of one of the town's essential resources. The information will be an integral part of water and wastewater planning.
Data such as temperature and dissolved oxygen levels from top to bottom, total depth, color of water, and the depth to which light penetrates have been collected for about 16 bodies of water. “There have been tons of comment about vegetation seen on ponds,” Kennedy said.
Blooms of cyanobacteria were recorded in some ponds. In an email after the meeting, Kennedy described it as “an organism that looks like floating microscopic plants but it has some characteristics of bacteria also. It gives off a toxic substance that can kill mammals if the concentration is high enough...The state health department does the testing and posts ponds that are high in this toxin so that people will be warned not to have body contact.”
Herewith a quick tour of the ponds:
Shoal Pond: “It's never been a good place to go swimming,” Kennedy said at the meeting. “It may have been a cranberry bog.”
Uncle Harvey's Pond: “There are blooms of cyanobacteria toxic to humans and animals,” said Kennedy. Task force member Judy Scanlon noted the pond was closed by the board of health the summer before.
Uncle Seth's Pond: “There are problems with algae blooms in places,” Kennedy said of the water body off Route 39 near Pleasant Bay Nursing Home and its assisted living facility. “It drains to Tar Hill Creek. At the time the second facility was built, they put monitoring wells in. I'm trying to get all the data from Brewster.”
Boland Pond: Kennedy noted that it's “right in back of the middle school. The Orleans Ponds Coalition did a lot of work on the trails. It's filling in with a lot of sediment,” with colors of “pea soup green and golden brown” recorded.
Sarah's Pond: “It's pretty much surrounded by forest land, and was farmland in the past,” said Kennedy. “There are roosting herons...a couple of cyanobacteria spots.”
Crystal Lake: “The people who live there don't think it's as crystal as it was,” Kennedy noted. “The water quality is still good for swimming.” Scanlon said it's the town's second deepest pond after Bakers, which is 60 or 62 feet deep. “The water color has changed a bit,” Kennedy said, prompting Scanlon to recall people, including her childhood self, feeding ducks there; she remembered also that seagulls would stop by for a rest “after dining at the then-open landfill. That's no longer the major source of nutrients; it's now septic systems.”
Baker's Pond: Deep as it is, “even there some areas are lacking oxygen,” Kennedy said. There used to be a busy rest stop near the pond, subjecting it to road runoff.
Uncle Israel's Pond: “It's very shallow, maybe three feet deep if you're lucky,” said Kennedy. “There's Plymouth gentian, an endangered species.” Scanlon said the plants can be found at Crystal Lake, Baker's and Gould's ponds,
Kettle Pond: The color theme here is “brown,” according to Kennedy. “It's the most acidic pond,” full of pine needles.
Deep Pond: Connected with School Pond, it has issues with dissolved oxygen levels.
Meadow Bog: Scanlon said it appears to be “getting a little more salt water.”
Gould Pond: Is it “our unimpacted pond?” Kennedy asked. It's located in the town's protected wellhead area, right next to the water department. Scanlon called it “real pretty,” and noted that walking is allowed in the area.
Twining's Pond: This shallow pond has public walking trails “and is in pretty good shape,” Kennedy said.
Their “walking tour” completed, members sat down to plan their next steps. The task force data will be combined with chemical analyses being prepared by consultant Ed Eichner along with other factors such as locations of outfall pipes. “Then we need to prioritize which ponds need management first, and which strategies work,” Kennedy said.
The action list could identify ponds with public access, ones with cyanobacteria blooms, others with rare species to protect, those with fish runs, and ones with town landings. Scanlon noted that some of the ponds have active groups of “friends” devoted to their health.
Members suggested using visual representations of the numbers to make their case for remediation.
“Dissolved oxygen isn't something people see,” said task force member Betsy Furtney.
“But,” Scanlon noted, “every fisherman knows you need a lot of nice oxygenated water for trout. If you put it in that context...”
You can see some of the ponds for yourself in the coming months as the Orleans Conservation Trust offers a series of free walks of Meadow Bog, Sarah's Pond, and Twining's Pond (Feb. 11 from 9 to 11 a.m.), Mill Pond Valley Conservation Area (March 14 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.), Twining's Pond Conservation Area (April 21 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.), and Baker's Pond Conservation Area (May 9 from 3 to 4:30 p.m.). Walks will be led by OCT trustee Mon Cochran. Go to orleansconservationtrust.org for more details.