Polluted Runoff Helps Trash Two Ponds in South Hadley

As The Sustainable Sites Initiative reports, pollution from water runoff is no joke. “Contaminated stormwater runoff from developed land is the leading cause
of water quality problems[23] and accounts for 70 percent of water
pollution in urban areas.[29] Runoff from developed areas can contain
oil, grease, excessive nutrients, pathogens (e.g., E. coli, hepatitis
A), persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals, and heavy metals.”

Today’s Gazette contains a guest column from Thomas Wallace. He lives next to the Back Stevens Conservation Property in South Hadley. Its upper and lower ponds used to feature clean, clear waters used for mill operations and ice making. Later it supported fishing and passive recreation. Those days are gone…

In the early ’70s, all this began to end when the South Hadley
Conservation Commission (SHCC) granted permission to the Massachusetts
state Highway Department to dump all that problematic drainage waters
from the Plains areas into the ravine in back of the Plains School ball
field. Suddenly, one of the spring-fed brooks feeding the trout pond
became the receptor for all drainage from the new Route 202 and 33
intersection, along with the surrounding neighborhood, streets and
parking lots. That was a nefarious decision at best.

The 2-inch, 18-inch and 36-inch concrete pipes began to spew gas,
oil, grease, salt, pesticides, fertilizer, etc. into a pristine wetland

Every time it rained now, both ponds would turn brown. Even during
dry spells when the muddy waters settled, the ponds lost that clear,
clean quality. They took on a permanent greenish tint. The upper pond
began to fill in at an alarming rate but nothing was done…

The next tragedy to visit this wetland was when the SHCC did yet
another study of regulations and order of conditions, and then allowed
the town to dump the problematic flood waters from the South Hadley
High School athletic fields into the empty upper pond, which found its
way to the lower pond. Now the light green tinge in the lower pond
water turned dark green from fertilized waters oozing in from the
athletic fields, and when conditions are right, football size hunks of
algae form. Much of the endemic fish population in the lower pond had
died out by now…

Holding capacity of the lower pond had been destroyed from the
thousands of tons of mud filling it in as a direct result of the SHCC
letting the state dump polluted flood waters from the Plains area into
that once pristine wetland area…

The Black Stevens Conservation Property has turned into a very empty
place. No fisherman, walks, birds, squirrels or turtles are there
anymore to speak of…

Once again, the message is clear. Give wetlands and water bodies their space. Developers may argue that retention ponds can mitigate runoff problems, but these can require constant maintenance, and, as shown below, often fail.

See also:

Gazette opinion: “Don’t ease controls on wetlands” (10/25/07)
Proponents of Northampton’s new wetlands buffer zone regime, which authorizes development as close as 10 feet to wetlands in nine zoning districts,
tried to reassure critics by saying developers wouldn’t automatically
be entitled to get that close. The reality, however, is Northampton’s
Conservation Commission will now be on the defensive whenever it asks
developers for more than the minimum specified in the new ordinance.
Alexandra Dawson, chair of Hadley’s Conservation Commission, writes in today’s Gazette [emphasis added]:

I thoroughly agree with recent comments to the effect that
this is not the time to weaken local controls over development in or
near wetlands. Few cities and towns outside Route 495 have local
wetlands protection ordinances and bylaws; so what happens to one is
likely to happen to others. This is clearly what has happened in
Northampton and Greenfield…

…Northampton has adopted changes
to its bylaws that limit the setback between development and wetlands
in the business district to 10 feet, although it is obvious that 10
feet is not even enough space to accommodate the big yellow machines
that do the building. It is true that a recent court decision indicates
that wetlands ordinances (or conservation commission regulations
adopted under them) should enumerate setbacks so that builders need not
guess what will be required of them. Unfortunately, there is
also case law stating that whatever is so established limits the
commission’s discretion to ask for more unless there is a specific
showing of why one proposal stands out from the others. If the setback
in the ordinance is 10 feet, it will be very hard for the commission to
justify a permit restricting building for 50 feet.
For this reason, most eastern Massachusetts bylaws that contain setbacks start at 25 to 50 feet.

Hyla Ecological Services Analyzes the Proposed Wetlands Ordinance
Buffer function was found to be directly related to the width of the buffer. Ninety-five
percent of buffers smaller than 50 feet suffered a direct human impact
within the buffer, while only 35% of buffers wider than 50 feet
suffered direct human impact.
Human impacts to the buffer zone
resulted in increased impact on the wetland by noise, physical
disturbance of foraging and nesting areas, and dumping refuse and yard
waste. Overall, large buffers reduced the degree of changes in water
quality, sediment load, and the quantity of water entering the adjacent

EPA: Wetlands and Flood Protection
within and downstream of urban areas are particularly valuable,
counteracting the greatly increased rate and volume of surface-water
runoff from pavement and buildings…

WATERSHEDSS: Major Causes of Wetland Loss and Degradation
is a major cause of impairment of wetlands (USEPA 1994b). Urbanization
has resulted in direct loss of wetland acreage as well as degradation
of wetlands. Degradation is due to changes in water quality, quantity,
and flow rates; increases in pollutant inputs; and changes in species
composition as a result of introduction of non-native species and
disturbance. The major pollutants associated with urbanization are
sediment, nutrients, oxygen-demanding substances, road salts, heavy
metals, hydrocarbons, bacteria, and viruses (USEPA 1994b). These
pollutants may enter wetlands from point sources or from nonpoint
sources. Construction activities are a major source of suspended
sediments that enter wetlands through urban runoff.

Paved Surfaces, Salt and Water Bodies: A Bad Mix

Gazette: “Salt suspected in Southampton well contamination”
According to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s Web site, salt is a cheap and effective solution to
ice-covered roads that can be a problem for drinking water systems as
runoff affects local soil quality, groundwater and surface water

Flood and Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan: Wetlands Buffers of 100 Feet
Are an Effective Flood Mitigation Strategy and Should Be Consistently

In general, a core problem for infill in Northampton is
to avoid placing large numbers of people and structures in low-lying
areas downtown that may be at risk for flooding. As the plan states,
“In recent years, heavy rainstorms have caused significant problems in
more urbanized areas as increased development inhibits proper drainage
and existing or poorly maintained water systems cannot handle increased
stormwater runoff.”

Maintaining Stormwater Management Systems
number-one problem we saw in stormwater quality was that no one was
maintaining anything,” Moll [John Moll, chief executive officer of
Lawrenceville, GA–based CrystalStream Technologies] notes. “We’d ask
people, ‘How do you clean these things?’ And they had nothing. Now,
it’s gotten better. But there is still a lot of work to be done.”

…[Some] owners
assume they will stay in compliance simply by cleaning the BMPs—or
scheduling a cleaning—every year or every six months. Problem is, some
BMPs don’t need that much cleaning, depending on the type of stormwater
device and its location, Jacobson says, while others may need cleaning
much more frequently.

Alex Ghiselin, Letter to Gazette: “Don’t let development encroach on our wetlands”
has a natural wetland system that protects us from flooding, nurtures
biodiversity and filters our groundwater. Allowing development within
10 feet of this system in almost every residential district is not a
good idea.

The failure of the storm water system built as a part
of the Northampton High School renovation six years ago illustrates why
protecting wetlands is so important. Silt has filled the retention pond
so there is no capacity to slow a storm surge which now flows unimpeded
into the Mill River and contributes to flooding downstream. This
accumulated silt also raised the water table and spills ground water
into nearby basements…

Without maintenance, these [storm water mitigation] systems are part of the problem, not the solution…

Wetlands do not need to be maintained; they just need to be protected.

Mike Kirby: Compensatory Wetland on Carlon Drive Not Working

Snow and Slush Expose Limits of Storm Drains

Connecticut River Watershed Action Plan: Remove impervious surfaces within 50 feet of streams
reduce nonpoint source pollution from stormwater runoff, the
Connecticut River Strategic Plan proposes the removal of impervious
surfaces within 50 feet of streams and the investigation of “functional
replacements” (such as the use of permeable pavement) for impervious
surfaces within 100 feet of streams, in developed areas (PVPC, 2001).
In the urbanized areas, the removal or retrofitting of impervious areas
and the implementation of Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs)
could be beneficial in improving water quality.

Intermittent Streams Merit a 100-Foot Buffer Zone in Hopkinton
Here is a bylaw from Hopkinton’s Wetlands Protection Regulations (PDF) requiring
a 100-foot buffer zone around intermittent (and continuous) streams. We
note that just such an intermittent stream, Millyard Brook, runs through the heart of the forest behind North Street that Kohl Construction intends to build on.

Photo Essay: Millyard Brook Swells with Water in Winter (1/12/08)
January 11, a mild and rainy day, Millyard Brook is clearly not dry,
but helping a large volume of water flow safely through the
neighborhood. Adding impervious surface near streams like these can
increase the speed and volume of runoff that flows into them and make them more flood-prone. In addition, the pollution from developed areas (e.g. salts, oils, herbicides) can harm the vegetation. As the City of Northampton acknowledges,
“Problems with nutrient runoff, erosion, siltation, loss of groundwater
recharge, poor water quality, vegetation change and harm to wildlife
habitat are greatly exacerbated by activities within 100 feet of

Northampton Redoubt: Videos and photographs of a walking tour of North Street Northampton’s Mill
Yard Brook and vernal pools