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President's Message 2011:

Protect Land and Water

On behalf of the Newton Conservators Board of Directors, I wish all of you a very happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year. As we end 2010 and enter our 50th anniversary year in 2011, two local issues press most intensely on our minds. The first is water. The second is protecting more open space.

Water is at the very heart of our most enjoyed parks and conservation areas here in Newton. The Charles River circles our city, wrapping around Norumbega Park, Auburndale Park, Nahanton Park, the Helen Heyn Riverway and the Charles River pathways. Crystal Lake, Hammond Pond and Bullough's Pond are centerpieces of their properties. Sadly, contamination from stormwater, the rainwater washing over our driveways and roofs, parking lots and roadways, flows into rivers and streams, severely stressing these waterbodies. Stormwater carries phosphates and other chemicals and has picked up where the old manufacturing plants left off, polluting the water and fertilizing its vegetation, causing an explosion of excessive vegetation as well as other problems.

We all love to look out, see the sun reflecting off water and enjoy the wildlife which is part of a healthy system. But as we look out, the problem glares back at us. From the Charles River Lakes District to the basin in Boston, excess vegetation clogged the Charles River this past summer, as it has for many years. Significant volunteer effort succeeds in battling back water chestnuts, but other vegetation takes its place as the root of the problem is untackled. And the problem isn't just cosmetic and disruptive to human enjoyment. Excessive vegetation chokes the river and blocks sunlight, ultimately suffocating fish and other aquatic animals, disrupting birds. . . . It goes on and on. What can we do?

Wherever we live in Newton, we can all do more. The problem is largely caused by too much phosphorus, a naturally occurring element and part of photosynthesis which plants need to extract their food. Enough is good. Too much creates excessive vegetative growth. Excess phosphorus comes from fertilizer running off lawns; auto exhaust; fuel and lubricants running off driveways and parking lots; contaminants washing off roofs and through gutters, leaves and other decomposing vegetation; septic systems and sanitary sewer overflows; and waste from geese, ducks, and pets. It isn't only those lawns and parking lots that abut the waterways. It's also those that drain into street drains and run into any waterway or stream that ultimately flows into the river. And that is most of us here in Newton.

Both the Charles River Watershed Association and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection have in-depth information on all of this. Some of the most important advice that experts offer homeowners is simple:

  • avoid fertilizing lawns; test to see if your lawn needs nutrients; if so, use compost
  • avoid herbicides or pesticides; they also contain phosphorus
  • collect stormwater runoff and store it in rain barrels or dry wells
  • reduce impermeable surface on your property to reduce runoff
  • fix all illegal sewer connections.

Some may read this and think to themselves that the small role their property plays in the larger scheme of things means very little, and some may even be worried that their lawn would lose the texture and color so many have come to admire. To that I say what one does with one's property, multiplied by hundreds, becomes a dangerous trend and a major problem. We need to trend in the other direction, learning to appreciate the look of a house in which the lawn, garden and hard surfaces can be admired for the extent to which it supports a healthy environment. Everyone plays a role.

Protecting more open space is the other thing on our minds as we say goodbye to 2010. We are dedicating our 50th anniversary dinner in May to a reinvigorated focus on this issue and you will be hearing much more about this in the months to come. Again, happy holidays and a wonderful New Year to all.

Jane Sender, President   

photo by Jane Sender

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