More and More Rivers and Streams are Running Dry
Why is it Happening and What Can Be Done About It?
Most watersheds in southeastern Massachusetts suffer from low streamflows. The Weir, Taunton, North and Neponset River Watersheds are all rated as “highly” or “moderately stressed” by the state. Most other rivers, streams and ponds, including the Jones River pictured above, are “unassessed,” meaning that they are afforded no special protections despite the fact that local citizens can attest to the flow problems they face. Global warming will only make things worse.
Low streamflows kill fish and wildlife, limit recreational opportunities, and can significantly increase water pollution by concentrating pollutants like bacteria and excess nutrients in lower volumes of water (a drop of arsenic in a cup can kill you, but a drop in a lake is perfectly safe).
Lack of rain is not the problem; Massachusetts gets plenty of rain.
Legitimate uses of our public water supply are not the problem.
Lack of strong state and federal laws is not the problem.
So what seems to be the problem? Low streamflows are caused by depleted groundwater from underground “aquifers,” which provide the only source of water our rivers and streams have during dry weather. In a natural water cycle, rain sinks into the ground and replenishes our aquifers, which slowly release it to lakes and streambeds all year long, but a number of wasteful actions and irrational policies are disrupting this natural cycle:
A tremendous percentage of our public water supply is being wasted with no benefit to anyone. More water conservation means less need to excessively pump groundwater. And it is inexpensive and does not require meaningful changes in lifestyle.
Instead of soaking back into the ground, a huge amount of rain runs off paved surfaces and rooftops as stormwater, causing a massive, short-term increase in streamflows (and thus in flooding), but longer-term depletion of groundwater. Untreated stormwater runoff is also responsible for 60% of Massachusetts’ water pollution.
Almost all cities and towns in southeastern Massachusetts get their water supplies from local or regional sources. But instead of treating wastewater and recycling back into the ground to replenish groundwater, communities with sewer systems send it to treatment plants that discharge far away, sometimes even to the ocean.
State agencies are not enforcing the laws already on the books despite pressure, and even lawsuits, from watershed associations. New legislation actively supported by a number of WAA member organizations would force them to do so.