....Where You Eat, As the Saying Goes.
The sea is the universal sewer.
Jacques Cousteau, to House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Jan. 28, 1971
Why had the red tide struck? Here is an explanation from the Providence Journal –
“First, there's too much fresh water in some of our bays, lowering the level of salt in the water and providing a happier home life for the newly born red-tide cells. [BEAR THIS IN MIND – WE’LL BE RETURNING TO THIS – PP]. WHOI scientist Dennis McGillicuddy says that red-tide cells lying on the ocean bottom wake up each spring. When they find lots of fresh water, a perfect ocean temperature, and much nourishment to eat -- they go to town. So, why are there so many nutrients in the waters? And why is there so much fresh water in our oceans?
For an answer to that mystery, time to move from talking to the scientists to talking to New England housing developers and all those people who have built McMansions on our shorelines. Time to talk to the shoreline homeowners who run their fertilizer-greedy grass lawns down to the shoreline. Chopping down all the vegetation that nature has grown as a buffer for our rivers, ponds and coasts, and building huge houses with rich-looking green grass running down to the water is a recipe for algae blooms. Add to those ingredients that many New England sewage plants emit not clean water but only partly purified "gray" water (it's cheaper that way), and it's not hard to figure out why our coastal waters are a mess. So we know where the nutrients came from, but how did all that fresh water suddenly get here? Scientists aren't certain, but a growing number believe that rising global temperatures resulting in melting polar ice caps may be shifting global ocean currents.”
Porcupine rather sighs when he reads ‘explanations’ like this; so much easier to blame global consumption or those bad rich newcomers than a more intractable source for the problem. Or perhaps the solution is a great deal closer than the North Pole?
The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) has a very complete web site describing the salutary affect that the construction of the sewage Outfall Pipe from Boston’s sewers into Massachusetts Bay has had on the Harbor Cleanup. One paragraph from the web site explains:
“The opening of the new 9.5-mile ocean outfall on September 6, 2000 relocated effluent away from Boston Harbor to Massachusetts Bay. MWRA scientists have already noted a number of changes in harbor water quality that appear to be related to the relocation. The most dramatic changes have occurred near the former harbor outfalls (inside Boston Harbor), especially changes in bacteria, ammonium concentrations, and water clarity. This section describes observations during the first four months after the DITP discharges to the harbor ended. Now, the major sources of contaminants—especially nutrients—are from the rivers and storm water runoff. …During the first weeks after the bay outfall started up and all harbor discharges ended, water quality improved greatly near the former harbor outfalls. During subsequent months, improvements were seen harbor-wide.”
This is all very nice for Boston – but what about the enormous amounts of fresh water pumped into Cape Cod Bay? The site is a potpourri of charts and maps, showing the projected and actual impact of the gray water outfall – and one of the most damning shows that while the MWRA thought the fresh water outfall would hug the coastline, the maps show the dilution of salt water actually reaching to Provincetown. What the charts also show is that while the measuring of coliform and lead are scrupulous, the ‘Flow, in Conduit’ is simply labeled ‘Continuous’. Also, the last map showing Chlorophyll sampling on the site is dated 2000 – and it showed a spike of over 200% at that time. The site also announces that in 2005 – five years after the plant was brought on line, the MWRA will BEGIN to measure the impact on Massachusetts (a.k.a. Cape Cod) Bay, and is requesting bids now to do the studies.
I advise all Cape Codders to visit www.mwra.state.ma.us, and read the story of the Harbor Cleanup, and look at the maps, with a different question in mind, rather than the story of the success being touted. Especially, remember that the tax dollars of Cape Cod pay for the debt service for the bonds that built the pipe.
Is all that red-tide inducing fresh water really coming from global warming, or from Boston?
HOWEVER! I told you we would be returning to this!
Never let it be said that the Porcupine is a mere cavailler, a carper without solution. If, in fact, a deficiency in ocean salinity is the Problem, the Porcupine has the solution.
Provincetown has no water, and tremendous demand. They now purchase their water from neighboring Truro, and are driving Truro to snitch Wellfleet water. Why not build a desalinization plant at the National Seashore to serve Provincetown with fresh water, and take the left over sea salt and minerals, and feed them back into the fresh water as it is released from Deer Island, correcting the salinity?
Rather than have to turn off the Outfall spigot altogether, perhaps the MWRA can pay for it!