By State Representative Tom Calter (12th Plymouth District)
Fifty-two years ago, neighboring communities of Brockton came together, despite concerns, to provide a stopgap measure to supplement Brockton’s insufficient water supply during a time when drought left the City at risk of burning from fire.
Yet, as we face a looming public health crisis with the continued degradation of Monponsett Pond, and cyanobacteria counts growing more hazardous by the week, Brockton water officials continue to refuse to change their irresponsible practices that have defined their management approach for over five decades. In fact, they won’t even acknowledge their role – as dominant as it is. Recently, Brockton Water Commissioner Chair Ossie Jordan, claimed that there is “no problem” with water quality or quantity for residents of Brockton and challenged people to “get the right information”. With that in mind, I’m writing this article to provide some important facts that he omitted.
In 1964, the passage of emergency legislation, Act 371, authorized Brockton to access Monponsett Pond in Halifax and Furnace Pond in Pembroke as part of their supply, which already included Silver Lake. The fact is: hand-in-hand with granting this access, Act 371 also established the Central Plymouth County Water District Commission as the legal water management authority charged with ensuring that practices promote safe and sustainable drinking supplies for all of central Plymouth County, as well as protecting the ponds’ pre-existing recreational and economic uses.
Following years of closure of West Monponsett Pond due to spikes in unsafe cyanobacteria levels and negative ecological impacts on the pond and Silver Lake, the CPCWDC and I have been working diligently with Brockton officials for over 3 years to get all parties talking about solutions. Originally we had hoped that with the sharing of facts and data, Brockton would show interest in the same common good that delivered them a drinking water supply amidst their own crisis. However, the fact is, despite scientific research and data presented, Brockton continues to keep the sluice gate at Stump Brook closed, ignoring the authority of the CPCWDC in the process. In doing so, they keep West Monponsett Pond stagnant, all-the-while knowing that such action is a significant contributing factor that makes conditions ripe for cyanobacteria blooms to grow and flourish. And flourish they have.
The Mass Dept. of Public Health sets the safe contact standard for cyanobacteria at 70,000 cells per liter. The fact is that a sample collected from West Monponsett on July 11th came in at over 1 Million cells per liter. Over 1 Million –that’s 15 times the public health threshold for contact. Certain strains of cyanobacteria can manufacture toxins and these toxins can produce adverse health effects. Physical ingestion can cause illness and research now shows that these toxins can even become airborne, with a range of miles, bringing respiratory problems and increased rates of ALS and Alzheimer’s with it. Residents who live around the pond are often afraid to open their windows or leave their homes when the cell counts are high. The notion made by Brockton Rep. Michelle DuBois that residents of Halifax want their beaches back to sunbathe is beyond offensive.
While disregard for their neighbors’ health is bad enough, perhaps what’s worse is disregard for their own responsibility to ensure a sustainable and safe water supply for residents of the great City of Brockton into the future. Many times over many years, Brockton has been advised that reliance on Silver Lake for the majority of its water source was inadequate and that additional supplies must be developed to ensure a sufficient water supply in the event of a drought. This prompted the use of Monponsett in the first place, and now that source may be ruined. Yet, they evidently continue to view Silver Lake as ‘theirs’, when in reality Brockton doesn’t own Silver Lake, any more than any municipality can. The fact is – it is a Great Pond and is owned by all people in the Commonwealth. The privileged rights of access Brockton enjoys absolutely do not give them the right to destroy it.
Moreover, the bacteria cell count in Monponsett Pond far exceeds the safety standards for swimming and yet this water is dumped by the billions of gallons into the Silver Lake drinking water supply, with a nod from Commissioner Jordan that they “might increase some of the chemicals we put in if that became a problem.” I’m not a chemist, nor a doctor, but I’ve learned enough about the harm of chemical exposure on the human body to be weary of that as a go-to solution for an ongoing problem. Prior to becoming a legislator, I spent 30 years in the environmental remediation industry, I know an environmental blight when I see it, and I know that knee-jerk chemical treatments are merely masking the problem.
Brockton officials deny the risk to public health and to the sustainability of their water supply. Monponsett’s degraded water quality is fueled by excessive nutrients and the presence of cyanobacteria cells. During the non-summer months Brockton diverts that highly degraded water into Silver Lake. It is only a matter of time before Silver Lake is also pushed over the edge and mirrors the dangerous conditions in Monponsett. So, while Rep. DuBois and others mistakenly believe that this is purely a recreational problem, it could soon be Brockton’s drinking water crisis. Brockton’s citizens and the residents around Silver Lake cannot afford this destruction of a precious resource.
The towns of Halifax and Hanson, the CPCWDC, and local watershed associations all recognize that there are multiple contributing factors to the cyanobacteria problem. They are all doing their part, spending significant money and time in upgrading septic systems, water treatments, public education on fertilizers, and working with the agricultural industry to stem the problem. The one significant contributing factor that remains unhindered is the water stagnation. That is controlled by Brockton water officials and they must do their part.
The fact is, the City of Brockton has an alternate water source readily available through its contract with Aquaria, yet they rarely use it and when they do, it is minimally. Water from Silver Lake is “free” after all and Aquaria water is not. I represent constituents of 6 towns, all of whom pay for the precious resource of clean water. We’re not asking Brockton to do anything we aren’t already doing. Tying in to the MWRA is another solid alternative with hook up points in neighboring Stoughton that make it a very viable option. The cost of responding to a water crisis far exceeds a proactive approach and if these existing sources are lost due to water safety and poor management, there is no predicting how expensive that “free” water will become.
The MA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) has long been aware of the draw-down impacts on Silver Lake and the deterioration of Monponsett Pond, and at my urging eight months ago, began preparing a new Administrative Consent Order for Brockton to comply with. However, I am extremely disappointed that several months of negotiation with Brockton has not resulted in any work product, and the heat of the summer is now upon us.
I’ll remind readers that the water crisis in Flint, MI was borne out of prioritizing cost savings over water safety. Citizens of Flint repeatedly raised concerns about the quality of the drinking water, and repeatedly, these concerns were dismissed. The water crisis in Toledo, OH, caused by a massive cyanobacteria bloom, left a half a million residents without safe drinking water despite continual advance warnings from the EPA about its vulnerability and the Toledo’s lack of preparedness.
Similar to the crises in Flint and Toledo, the warnings about Brockton’s water supply are being voiced and dismissed. No one wants to see this evolve into a public health emergency and yet, the path to that end is visible. If Brockton officials choose again to look the other way and not take meaningful action, I will file legislation requiring them to hook up to the MWRA as a sustainable and reliable water resource. For the sake of meeting basic water needs for the people of Brockton, AND for the sake of the health of residents living in proximity to Monponsett Pond and Silver Lake, it is time for Brockton Water Commissioners to finally change their ways and do what is right – for the common good.