The challenges mentioned in the previous articles — increased impervious surfaces (loss of groundwater recharge), wasteful water use during nature’s driest months and transferring water out of local basins — leave us with streams that do not glisten nor rustle. We are left with dead fish, fewer sensitive species like slimy sculpin, reduced water quality (less water means less dilution of stormwater runoff), reduced recreational opportunities and aesthetic benefits, higher water rates and a further degraded planet to pass on to our children.
Through our current development and construction practices, we clear 40 acres of open space each day in Massachusetts. That’s about 30 football fields, including end zones. The result is a greatly altered hydrological cycle that increases flash flood events and decreases groundwater recharge, leaving our rivers and streams, and the life in them, subject to extreme and potentially catastrophic changes that would rarely occur under natural conditions.
My inspiration for writing these articles has come from hours of standing in depleted streams and the nagging sensation that the greater public, as the consumer, should be part of the solution. Why are we willing to pay more to buy bottled water that follows less-stringent water quality standards than our own tap water but requires extensive energy to transport and bottle when we won’t support our local water department increasing the water rates? Why is our concept of household property aesthetics so rigid that we must have a nonnative grass with minimal root depth dominate our landscape and guzzle our water supply? Why do we accept main stem rivers, such as the Ipswich River, running dry only to become a hiking trail? (While a hiking trail is nice, wouldn’t habitat for prize trout be better?) Why is all of this acceptable when there are solutions?
We’re coming to a watershed moment. What will we decide? Who gets to decide?
Will we bicker over every nuance, every subtlety, while our streams are desiccated but our lawns, many covered in pesticides and herbicides, flourish green and true? Across the board, current environmental challenges are being exponentially exacerbated by the actions of countless individuals who (frequently unknowingly) impair nature’s capacity to handle our demands for more; more water, more land, more energy. In many arenas, such as climate change, changing our individual actions have an effect, but the global, mass nature of the challenge means that most likely we will not see this incremental positive change at the local level. To the contrary, our water resource challenge is something that we can drastically improve at the local level.
While an increasing population may eventually outstrip our local aquifers of their water supply, our current challenges are amenable. Change our approach to development, expand our notion of a beautiful landscape, minimize interbasin water transfers and address traditional infrastructure that throws stormwater away and we will abate the Massachusetts water resource issue — at least for now. How can you enact this change? Recognize that our earth has finite resources, and be willing to make the changes and the sacrifices that recognition of this truth may require. Support your local water department. Let them know that the public wants wise resource management, and that you are willing to pay for it. Alter your landscaping preferences. Install water efficient appliances. Get involved in your local planning board or form a stream team (with my assistance). There are countless opportunities to become more involved in activities that protect and restore our rivers and streams which provide the lifeblood for the wildlife we enjoy, the fish we catch, and the integrity of our natural resources.
If you’d like to learn more, visit www.massriverways.org or contact me at Gabrielle.Stebbins@state.ma.us.
“Stewardship Matters” is sponsored by the Squannassit & Petapawag Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) Stewardship Committee. Visit our Web site at www.squannassit.org, or contact us at email@example.com.