Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another Assabet Patrol

I guess Old Man Winter didn't like my comment about an early spring being in the offing. He made me work for a half an hour with a hammer to break a pathway through the near shore ice. Once I broke free I saw the sun was fading and felt a cool breeze building, so elected to ascend the Assabet River, which is always the better choice when there is wind.
Once again, Dove Rock is submerged, Willow Island is submerged and the Assabet is spilling over her banks in places. Picked up the usual dozen or so empty bottles before reaching West Concord. Continued past Pine Street, this time noting the staff gauge reading 5.70 on a gauge that tops out at 6.70.
I had 23 empty containers on reaching my turn-around point at the blowdown near Westvale Meadow. The channel on river left had water again, tempting me to paddle a little further, but with rain imminent, I decided to head back down river after my cocoa break. It was a perfect day to have my ipod shuffle and hear Los Lobos singing "Will the wolf survive?" as well as Jim Pepper's "Withitai-To"
The trip down river was fast and easy and grabbed another 3 empty containers. Saw the same gang of robins I saw last time, so I am still thinking early spring.
One surreal moment occurred today while I was paddling on the lower Sudbury River. Looking off to the side, I saw people ice skating maybe a hundred yards away. An interesting juxtaposition from the seat of my kayak.
The rain started during my drive home. Recovered trash total 25. YTD= 282

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Patrolled Assabet - Egg Rock to Damonmill

Taking advantage of today's brief window of fairly nice weather, I broke through some near shore ice, launched my boat, and headed past Egg Rock into the current of a near flood stage Assabet River. Approaching the narrow bend at the snow draped Leaning Hemlocks, I got my first sense of just how strong the current was and knew it would give me a good workout. Dove Rock was nowhere to be seen. At Willow Island, there was a hawk calling out repeatedly in response to the clucking sound of some sort of ground bird, perhaps a woodcock. The sun was trying its best to break through the hazy cloud layer. At times, I was concerned I might be overdressed.
Because the river's water level was so high, I was able to get into places that are usually not accessible. My deck was quickly being decorated with the usual plastic bottles, beer cans, styrofoam cups, and plastic bags.
About a quarter mile below Route 2, I came upon a mostly submerged aluminum canoe on the east side of the river.
Found a good amount of trash as I went through West Concord.
Passing under the Pine Street bridge was no problem. The stretch above Pine Street requires paddling around several obstacles and this provided an enjoyable challenge.
Arriving at my usual turnaround point, the large blowdown below Westvale Meadow, I was surprised to find the usually dry channel on river left having enough water to bypass the blowdown. This is truly a rare event, so I contunued upstream and encountered another blowdown or beaver downed tree after rounding the bend towards Damonmill. Here again, there was ample water over the usual riverbank and it allowed passage through the trees. The current was getting very strong as I got closer to the dam. I made it just a few yards beyond the Route 62 bridge and let the current very swiftly turn my bow downstream.
The ride downriver was effortless with so much flow. Shooting under Pine Street, I noted the staff gauge read 5.90. I believe it only goes as high as 6.0.
In West Concord, some trash drew me out of the current behind Concord Park, so it made a nice spot to take a cocoa and power bar break. The sun was now pretty well shrouded and I felt the first wet flakes of snow. The snow would become steadier as I made my way back to my take out point. I saw quite a few robins, so I am thinking that an eary spring is in the offing. My trash haul for the day was 32 empty containers bringing my YTD total to 257.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Assabet River and Wastewater Treatment

Whenever I paddle the waters of the Assabet River, I can't help but be conscious of the role that wastewater treatment plays in the river's water quality. One reason for this is that I make my living as a wastewater treatment plant operator. The other reason is that I frequently feel droplets of water splash up from my paddle and contact my face and mouth. At these times, I like to believe that the five wastewater treatment plants that discharge up to 14 million gallons per day of treated effluent directly into the Assabet are being operated at optimum capability.

The State licensed operators charged with the above task have a huge impact on the river's day to day water quality. Most of these treatment facilities are using some of the best available technology to insure that any negative effect is minimal. Every few years the degree of treatment bar is raised, and these operators are challenged to meet even more stringent levels of treatment. I know that I, for one, appreciate their efforts and commend them for a job well done, especially in regards to disinfecting the water of disease causing pathogens.

The reason for the bar being raised is the result of advocacy efforts by groups such as the Organization for the Assabet River (OAR) and the Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT). Oar has been measuring water quality, using techniques approved by EPA/DEP, at 29 locations since 2000. The collected data helps to demonstrate the need to reduce nutrient levels in the river's water. The nutrient culprits are phosphorous and nitrogen, and cause aquatic plants to grow too well and choke out other living organisms. These two nutrients are in the stuff we spread all over our lawns, and use to wash just about everything we need to get clean.

As of 2010, most of the earlier mentioned treatment plant operators will be required to remove total phosphorous down to 0.1 parts per million (ppm). That is 7.5 times lower than today's requirements. I remember operating a plant that discharged into Spencer Brook back in the 1980s. That plant needed to meet a 1.0 ppm phosphorous limit and I thought that was tough. Just how low is 0.1 ppm? Think of 1/10th of an inch in 16 miles! It is sort of like dancing the Limbo! How low can you go?

To meet these standards, the operators could use all the help we can provide. If we live in the Assabet's watershed, we can help by using cleaners and detergents that contain no phosphorous. There are many on the market and they state clearly on the container that they contain no phosphorous. It takes only a few minutes to check labels on laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, carpet shampoo, etc.

Another area where the operators can be helped is with nitrogen removal. Because most of the removal techniques utilize biological methods, anything that inhibits the bacteria can throw a wrench into the works. One compound that especially inhibits the bacteria needed to perform nitrogen removal is quaternary ammonium. This compound is often found in floor strippers used in large buildings. Schools and businesses can stress to their cleaning personnel that products containing this compound not be used whenever floors are stripped.

Over the last 5 years I have noticed quite an improvement in the Assabet's water quality. I remember when low river levels in late summer meant nasty odors emanating from just upstream of the Powdermill Dam. In fact, driving down High Street , I'd often regretted not having rolled up my car windows (back when cars still had crank window handles). This past summer and fall saw the water level kept low while work was being done in the area of the dam, and I have yet to notice any negative effect.

If curious about wastewater treatment operations, checkout the website of the Massachusetts Water Pollution Control Association:

More information about river advocacy groups OAR and SVT can be found at the "Relevant Links" section of this blog.

Nine Quarts of Waste Motor Oil Laid to Rest

This afternoon, thanks to the Town of Acton Transfer Station, I was able to properly dispose of the three containers of waste motor oil I had recovered from the Assabet River on three recent trash patrols. The first container was fished out of the lower Assabet on 12/29/07 and contained one quart. The second was fished out of the same section of river on 1/12/08 and contained one gallon of very black waste motor oil. The third was taken from the riverbank (west) about a quarter mile above Spencer Brook and was identical to the second container and also contained one gallon of waste oil.

I can't help but suspect that all three containers came from the same person. Probably someone that changed the oil in a large truck or piece of equipment. I suppose they could have placed the containers on the ground near the river and last Spring's floods carried them away?

Photo shows one of the one gallon containers recovered on 1/12.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

1st February Patrol/Sudbury & Assabet

Thanks to Friday night's warm rain, I was able to head south on the Sudbury River for the first time in quite a while. Picked up 35 pieces of trash between Egg Rock and the north end of Fairhaven Bay. Most of the trash was in a usual hotspot, just downstream of Heath's Bridge. Shore fishermen leave large amounts of trash seemingly at their feet here. Upstream of the bridge, across from Martha's Point, I came upon a gull standing on the ice near the remains of a freshly killed fish. Saw a couple of red-tailed hawks and a group of what I believe were mergansers in flight. They had a lot of white visible. My Sudbury River sojourn came to an end not far upstream of Martha's Point, where I encountered a completely iced over Fairhaven Bay.

Returning to Egg Rock, I decided to patrol the Assabet River up to about a half mile upstream of Spencer Brook. On this stretch, I picked up an additional 16 pieces of trash including another one-gallon plastic container of used motor oil. This container was on the riverbank where the Reformatory Branch railway ran closest to the river, just upstream of Spencer Brook. This container was identical to the one I found several weeks ago. Like that one, full of oil with the cap on tight. Now, I have 2 gallons plus in the trunk of my car. Hope to find someone that will accept it and properly dispose of it.

The Assabet was flowing pretty fast today and Dove Rock only had about 6 inches showing above the river's surface. The difference between the two rivers is significant. The Assabet makes you work to overcome the current.

The sunshine felt nice and left little doubt that Winter is beginning to relinquish its grip.
51 empty containers recovered plus the oil and a canoe paddle. YTD = 225