NRCS Statewide Local Working Group Survey and Meeting Announcement

On September 29 at 12:00 noon, the NRCS will host a statewide Local Working Group meeting over Zoom. Please note: even if you cannot attend the meeting, you can make your voice heard by filling out the NRCS survey, linked below. Answers to this survey will not only structure the LWG meeting, but will also guide our work going forward.

This survey and meeting are an opportunity to provide input on natural resource priorities for the NRCS and the state conservationist. Agricultural producers, owners/operators of nonindustrial private forest land, professionals representing agricultural and natural resource interests, and individuals representing a variety of disciplines in the soil, water, wetland, plant, forestry, and wildlife sciences are all welcome.

For more information on local working groups, see What are Local Working Groups

Please fill out this survey at least one week prior to the meeting (September 22 deadline). This survey will help us structure the meeting so that it responds to your needs. A list of definitions of the resource concerns listed in the survey can be found here. Again, even if you cannot attend the meeting, please fill out this survey—answers to this survey will guide our work beyond the statewide Local Working Group meeting.

To receive the link to the meeting, please RSVP by emailing Austin Miles at amilesmacd@gmail.com.

July Monitoring Results In for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Bacteria

The monitoring results for TRWA’s July 12th monitoring are back from our contractor and available on the website.

Like last month in-stream levels of algae bloom generating nitrogen and phosphorus are high below Brockton, Bridgewater and Taunton due to the fact that stream dilution flows are low and these plants are still completing upgrades to remove these pollutants. The problem with nutrients and algae blooms in the watershed and Mount Hope Bay is compounded by EPA New England’s (Region 1 – Boston Office) failure to complete long over due permit renewals for Somerset and Fall River which are approaching 14 and 17 years overdue respectively. As discussed last month TRWA hopes to impress on EPA the important of it doing it’s job concerning these important permit re-issuance’s.

A bright spot in this month’s sampling results is a major reduction in bacteria levels at virtually all monitoring locations. This is good news for those using these waters for recreation.

 

June Monitoring Data for Nitrate, Phosphorus and Bacteria Shows Concerning Levels

TRWA has received the June monitoring results from our contract lab. The results indicate elevated levels of nitrate which causes algae blooms in the tidal lower river and Mount Hope Bay beginning to rise. We also saw elevated phosphorus levels downstream of the Brockton and Bridgewater wastewater treatment plants and bacteria levels exceeding the new more stringent state standard at almost all our sampling location. We anticipate that with the lower river flow and warmer temperature in July (moderate drought conditions) the results will be worse so we are looking forward too getting our July 12th sampling results soon.

Unfortunately Taunton, Brockton and Bridgewater are late finishing their treatment plant upgrades which would help our water quality. Worse yet EPA Region 1 (New England – based in Boston) which issues Massachusetts Clean Water Act permits is over 16 years late updating the Fall River treatment plant permit and over 13 years late on Somerset. TRWA and our partner organization supporting improvement of Narragansett Bay, Save the Bay headquartered in RI, hope to have discussions with EPA Region 1 to move the permit re-issuance along. If this fails we have the petition many TRWA members and watershed residents signed at the Middleborough Herring Run Festival and TRWA Taunton River Festival which we will send to the EPA Administrator in Washington and MassDEP Commissioner. We will also reach out to our federal and state legislators in both MA and RI for support.

How to celebrate World Turtle Day…

World Turtle Day was started in 1990 by the American Tortoise Rescue organization to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.   At the Taunton River Watershed Alliance (TRWA) we like to celebrate World Turtle Day the best way possible, by releasing head-started threatened Northern Diamondback Terrapins back into the wild. 

The Bristol Aggie NRM Junior Class getting ready to measure their charges one more time before release

The TRWA is working with the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to conduct a population study: a multi-year project looking at the numbers, age and distribution of the Diamondback in the Taunton River Watershed.  All work is conducted under a State Endangered Species Permit and will ultimately help the State manage and conserve this threatened species.  This spring will be the seventh year that TRWA volunteers have collected, documented, tagged and released individual Diamondback Terrapins in the Taunton River Watershed.  To date, 299 terrapins have been tagged.  For the last two years, two private property owners have allowed TRWA volunteers access to their land to collect and tag females after nesting.   In 2021, four nests were screen protected to prevent predators from eating the nests.  Half of the hatchlings that came from those four nests were released in August and the other half were sent to be head-started at the Natural Resources Management (NRM) Department at the Bristol County Agricultural High School (BCAHS.)

Head-starting is a conservation practice that helps dwindling turtle species.  Eggs or hatched young are raised for a season in artificial, protected conditions to give them a “head start.”  When released, they are often large enough to escape any further predation. 

These turtles believe it or not are the same age

At BCAHS, the 19 hatchlings were assigned to NRM Head Start project managers Grace Jackson, Faithanne Lackie, and Shanna McCarty.  Wild Diamondback Terrapins normally spend the winter in a semi-dormant state.  But Jackson, Lackie, and McCarty spent all of their senior year trying to trick the hatchlings into thinking it was summer and eating as much as they possibly could.  Faithanne Lackie, who will be attending Bridgewater State University in the fall, said the greatest challenge was the unknown.  The three girls could tell several head starts were ailing. Despite their attempts to change temperatures, diet, and care, four terrapins died. Shanna McCarty, who will be studying to be a Water Quality Technician at Bristol Community College, said they didn’t know whether it was illness or infection or malnutrition.  She holds up a tiny terrapin with the number 18 painted on its shell with bright pink nail polish.  Its as small as the day it arrived and clearly has not responded to all their doting care.  Right next to number 18, Grace Jackson, who will be studying Marine Biology and Aquaculture/Aquarium Science at Roger Williams University in the fall, holds up #1, which has thrived and is as big as her fist.  “It was exciting getting to watch them grow.” 

Bristol Aggie NRM Seniors Faithanne Lackie, Shanna McCarty, and Grace Jackson

On Friday, May 20th, National Endangered & Threatened Species Day, the three girls packed up their charges in bins with damp burlap to be sent back to the beaches where they hatched.  They were joined by fellow NRM students, TRWA Terrapin Study volunteers, and the private landowners to send 5 of the head-start terrapins off.  On Sunday, the 22nd, the remaining 9 were released in a second location.  Head-start #1 and #13 were big enough to be pit tagged.   Will #1 and #13 survive to return in seven years to lay a nest where their mother did?  Many of the volunteers that day hope so. 

Newly released head start heads towards freedom

Click here for a short video clip of one of the newly released head starts doing what Diamondbacks do best: IMG_3147

Sign TRWA’s “Help the Herring” Petition

Thank you to all who signed TRWA’s petition at the Middleboro Herring Run Festival on Saturday, April 9th or Sunday, April 10th . There will be another opportunity to sign at the Taunton River Festival on Sunday June 12th or you can call our office and stop by to sign. Our petition asks EPA and MassDEP to reissue the last two Clean Water Act (CWA) wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) permits in the Taunton River watershed. These plants need modernizing to remove nitrogen. The juvenile Herring and Alewife need a healthy algae bloom free estuary and Mount Hope Bay to rest, grow and acclimate to seawater before continuing their journey to the ocean. The five upriver WWTPs (Middleboro, Mansfield/Norton/Foxboro Regional Plant, Brockton, Bridgewater and Taunton) have completed upgrades which remove algae bloom causing nitrogen.

The Petition is to Michael S. Regan, EPA Administrator and Martin Suuberg, MassDEP Commissioner, from the Taunton River Watershed Alliance (TRWA) urging reissuance of the long overdue Somerset and Fall River CWA permits with Effluent Limitations Needed to Protect Water Quality.

The petition requests that EPA and MassDEP issue public notices and commence the process to reissue the last two long overdue Clean Water Act (CWA) permits, Somerset (13 years and 6 months overdue) and Fall River (16 years and 4 months overdue). These obsolete treatment plants cause and contribute to algae pollution, as well as dissolved oxygen and nutrient Massachusetts water quality criteria violations in the Taunton River estuary and Mount Hope Bay. The MassDEP continuous monitoring buoys in Mount Hope Bay document algae blooms and dissolved oxygen criteria violations each summer.

The Taunton River was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 2009. The Taunton River estuary and Mount Hope Bay are part of the bi-state (MA and RI) Narragansett Bay, designated an estuary of National Significance in 1985. Because of its low gradient, lack of main stem dams and over 5,000 acres of Alewife and Herring spawning area, the Taunton River estuary and watershed supports a large diadromous fish nursery essential to the offshore commercial fishing industry.

From 2013 to 2015 the EPA and MassDEP put on public notice, and subsequently issued, five of the seven major Clean Water Act (CWA) wastewater discharge permits in the Taunton River watershed. These permits required upgrading of obsolete treatment plants and addition of nitrogen and phosphorus removal to the extent needed to meet water quality standards. In 2016 the effort was stopped before the last two permits in the watershed for Somerset and Fall River were put on notice.

Now is the time to move forward with these permits to improve this critical resource, to make it more resilient to climate change and to promote fairness to the users of the 5 previously upgraded plants. These users will not see the full environmental benefit of their environmental investment in the estuary and river until these last two plants are upgraded. An additional benefit to starting the plant upgrades now is to access any available Build Back Better funding to supplement the State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan program, which helped fund the previous five permits.

The petition may be signed at our office at Sweets Knoll State Park, Tuesday/Wednesday 9a – 4p or Thursday 10a – 4p, please call ahead (508) 828-1101. We will also have copies available to sign at the TRWA Taunton River Festival on Sunday, June 12th from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM at Weir Riverfront Park in Taunton.

Please contact our office at director@savethetaunton.org  if you have any questions.

TRWA Sends Letter Requesting Denial of Assonet Neck Pier License

On January 28, 2022 TRWA sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) requesting that a permit not be issued for a large private pier and dock off the southweastern tip of Assonet Neck adjacent to Conspiracy Island and between two salt marsh areas on either side. A copy of TRWA’s letter may be found at this link.

Several Berkley residents contacted TRWA expressing their concern that two treasured town icons Assonet Neck and Conspiracy Island which generations of local canoeists, kayakers, fishermen and photographers have enjoyed were being sacrificed for a 170 foot long private dock. In its letter TRWA expressed concern that this project at such a visible and historically significant location is inconsistent with the federal Wild and Scenic designation of the Taunton River. The project is in a vulnerable location facing down estuary at the confluence of the Taunton and Assonet Rivers requiring a large amount of dredging and dredge spoil disposal for foundation support structures. Use of existing dock facilities or construction upriver in an already developed and more sheltered area with no adjacent salt marshes was not considered.

Some of the other issues raised in TRWA’s letter are:

  • The project will cause erosion and adverse effects to adjacent salt marshes (the artificial bank on each side of the dock will erode and transfer energy to natural features including the adjacent salt marshes and Conspiracy Island). The increase in boat wakes in the area will damage the adjacent salt marshes and the island.
  • The area is habitat for federal and state endangered and threatened species including sturgeon, diamond back terrapin (a threatened turtle species) and eagles. TRWA has just complete its sixth year of studying the northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) which inhabits the area proposed for the project.
  • The Narragansett Bay Estuary Project and EPA in Clean Water Act permit fact sheets has described this location in the estuary as a very sensitive and productive area.
  • The last comprehensive MassDEP sponsored study of Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River estuary cited this location as having excessive loading of nitrogen resulting in algae blooms and low dissolved oxygen. The project will exacerbate this problem due to fuel and fluid leaks from parked vehicles and watercraft.
  • The project will present a safety risk to kayakers from increased motorized boat traffic in the area.
  • Climate change/sea level rise, increasing frequency of severe storms, flood plain and velocity zone considerations do not appear to be adequately factored into the project.
  • Residents raised concerns to TRWA about harm to the Town’s cultural, historical and archeological heritage.
  • Residents raised traffic safety concerns because of narrow roads and a sharp curve at the location of the project entrance.

Anyone who would like to submit comments on this project should send them to MassDEP at the address contained in TRWA’s comment letter postmarked by the close of the comment period which is Saturday, February 5, 2022.

 

Please join us for the TRWA’s Annual Meeting

Please join us for an in-person TRWA Annual Meeting Saturday, November 13th, from 4-6:00 p.m. at the Bristol County Agricultural High School (BCAHS), 135 Center Street, Dighton. 

Our Featured Speaker, Dr. William Hanna, President of the Old Colony History Museum, will talk about his upcoming publication “History of the Taunton River.” (A pre-order sign up will be available.)

TRWA Board Member and BCAHS NRM Chairman, Brian Bastarache, and project technician George Bancroft, will present results from the 2021 Taunton River Diamondback Terrapin Population Assessment field season.  This is the the TRWA’s six season studying the Diamondback Terrapin population in the Taunton River and the second season of a small pilot nest protection program.  We will be raffling off a framed water color painting of a Taunton River Diamondback Terrapin hatchling by  TRWA Board Member & terrapin volunteer Pam Lowell.

 

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Steve Silva, TRWA’s Water Quality Monitoring Program, will speak on restarting the program after pausing for COVID-19 health concerns.  There will be a treasurer’s update and advocacy update, and the TRWA membership will be publicly voting to fill Board of Director seats and select 2022 officers.  Please contact the office if you are a member and have any questions on who is running for officers (or if you wish to join the board.)  

The meeting is hosted by the Natural Resource Management Department and will be held in the newly built Student Commons Building.  Light refreshments will be served.  

This is an in person meeting, all our welcome, but we ask that as per school policy, that masks be worn inside the building.  We will be running a live video feed if you wish to watch the meeting proceedings via your home computer.  Email director@savethetaunton.org for the Zoom meeting link and access code.  

The Student Commons Building is on the north side of Center Street.  Please note, the campus is still an active construction site and not all of the parking lots are available for use.  We ask that you park in the temporary grass lot by the cafeteria if you are more abled, leaving the paved parking spots in the central traffic circle (driveway next to the lights) in front of the Student Commons Building for those who may need a shorter walk or handicap access.   (The building is fully accessible from all entrances.)

 

Annual Taunton River Festival Returns September 12, 2021, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM

The Annual Taunton River Festival
Will return to the Wild and Scenic Taunton River’s Weir Riverfront Park on Sunday, September 12, 2021, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM.

Help us make this event a special celebration.

Our fair is admission free, and we will offer a variety of activities for the entire family, including live music, a food court, a craft fair, river activities, education and more.

If you are a school group, service club, community group, church, environmental organization or local business, we invite you to participate. You can:

  • Sponsor an event
  • Sign up for a table
  • Or present an event

We need volunteers too.

If you are interested, please email Director@savethetaunton.org, call (508) 828-1101 or message us on Facebook to volunteer or request an exhibitor (nonprofits) or vendor registration form.

Benefits include:

  • A chance to meet new customers and catch up with regulars you haven’t seen in person recently
  • Postings of business/nonprofit information on Facebook
  • A chance to introduce your nonprofit to potential members or donors
  • The chance to inform the public on how your organization is working to protect the Taunton River and make the watershed more resilient to climate change and how they can help

We are looking forward to meeting out new participants and catching up with those who have participated before.

Come early.  Set up time is 9:00 – 10:00. Table locations (bring your own table) are awarded on first come first served basis.

Any city or state Covid regulations in effect on the day of the event (September 12, 2021), such as distance between exhibit tables or mask requirements, will apply.

 

TRWA Water Quality Monitoring Program for 2021

TRWA is pleased to announce the TRWA Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program will resume on Tuesday, August 10, 2021 this year! Existing and new volunteer monitoring training will be held Saturday, July 31, 2021 at TRWA’s Sweets Knoll State Park Office in Dighton, MA (on Rt 138 just South of the Bristol Aggie traffic light – 1387 Somerset Avenue, Dighton, MA). On July 31st we will have sign-in and an informal get acquainted and Q/ A session from 9:30am to 10:00am and the training will run from 10:00am to Noon. If you want to participate but can’t make the July 31st training date, contact the TRWA office at director@savethetaunton.org and we’ll see if a make-up day is needed.

TRWA volunteers will sample the first Tuesday of the month for the remainder of the sampling season August, September, and October (3 months). Teams take their samples form 2 or 3 locations anytime between 5:00am to 8:00am and drop them off at the Taunton WWTP lab no later than 8:30am. As we have done in the past, and as noted above the refresher sampler/new volunteer training is on the last Saturday morning of the month before sampling begins which is Saturday, July 31, 2021 this year.

August is an important month for water quality monitoring. As the veteran samplers know TRWA teams of volunteers sample 20 locations (4 on the main stem of the Taunton River and 16 locations on tributary rivers/streams) the second Tuesday of each month during our sampling season (normally April through October). We have a MassDEP Quality Assurance Plan approved sampling program. We do 2 duplicates and 2 blanks each month (1 for every 10 samples for Nitrate, Total Phosphorus and Bacteria the most important pollutants we monitor). TRWA monitoring is important because it documents along with MassDEP Mount Hope Bay continuous monitoring the need for upgrading all seven major wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in the watershed to remove nitrogen and for the four WWTPs in the upper freshwaters of the watershed to also remove phosphorus. It also highlights the need across the entire watershed for better stormwater controls for new and existing development to reduce bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from stormwater discharges.

TRWA delayed the start of the sampling program to give our volunteers time to obtain their vaccinations so we can be safe working with each other and so we won’t risk bringing the virus to our program partners at the Taunton wastewater treatment plant. For both the training and sampling we are following CDC Guidelines. Those that are fully vaccinated (2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine) can participate normally. Those not fully vaccinated or with a compromised immune system must wear masks and practice social distancing.

We look forward to seeing you at the training session on July 31st. If you are a veteran sampler and your team needs sample bottles you can contact Rick McCormack at the Taunton WWTP lab (508-823-3582) to make arrangements to pick them up or contact Steve Silva the sampling program coordinator (steve124@gmail.com). The TRWA 2021 Standard Operating Procedures guide is on the TRWA website https://savethetaunton.org/ at the monitoring tab as well as our simple one-page sampler instructions sheet, chain of custody form, instructions for filling out sample bottle labels, Google map of sampling locations, and 2021 blank reporting forms which show in the lower section which locations/teams will collect duplicate and blank samples each month. This webpage generally has anything you might want to review concerning the sampling program.

One of the most important things we want to accomplish at the training is to ensure that we have teams of people with at least one veteran sampler ready to cover each sampling location. We will assign new volunteers to teams with veterans for hands-on training and to ease them into the program. If you know anyone who might like to get fresh morning air, knowledge, and be part of an important effort to save our environment, please invite them to the training.

If you are a veteran sampler and are no longer able to participate in the sampling program, please let Steve Silva (steve124@gmail.com) know to help us with planning.

       

      

2021 Sampling Season Update

Hello TRWA Sampling Volunteers and Potential New Volunteers,

I hope this email finds you and your families well.  Happy 2021!  I’m hopeful better times are coming soon.

As you know we cancelled the 2020 sampling program to keep our volunteers and the personnel at the treatment plant safe.  In 2021 we are hoping there will be enough folks vaccinated to do a last Saturday morning of some summer month refresher training session at Sweets Knoll and sample though the later part of the sampling season.  We will contact you as we see how the vaccination program progresses.

We really want to get the program back to normal (April to October sampling) for 2022.  Thanks to your great work, we were fortunate going into 2020 having four prior years with very complete data  from two dry years (2016 and 2017) and two wet years (2018 and 2019). This gives us a pretty good idea that 2020 a hot and dry year was probably much like 2016 and 2017 even though we couldn’t sample.  In 2022 it will be a new story because three large up-river treatment plants Brockton, Bridgewater and Taunton will start to remove nitrogen so we want to have monitoring to start to evaluate the water quality impact of this important change.

We miss seeing you all and appreciate the contribution you make to promote water quality improvement of the Taunton River.  Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.  Also, we always have to add a few samplers each year to expand teams that have lost members because folks have moved away or for other reasons.  When we do restart the program, please consider reaching out to others who may be interested in joining us.

Stay safe!

Best,
Steve