Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Scientific Proof that Stopping Pollution and Removing Dams Fixes Rivers

By Douglas Watts
Friends of Sebago Lake

Until 1999, the Presumpscot River near Portland, Maine was perhaps the filthiest and most polluted river in New England. Then two things happened. First, in July 1999 the S.D. Warren Paper Company shut down its paper pulp making operation in Westbrook, Maine, removing a giant gob of organic pollution from the river. Then, in 2002, the head of tide Smelt Hill Dam was removed. This dam, built in the early 1900s, created a seven mile long stagnant pond which allowed the paper mill pollution from S.D. Warren to fester and settle in the river and consume most of its dissolved oxygen.
The first underwater photos ever taken of native blueback herring and American shad (the big fish) ascending Presumpscot Falls, Presumpscot River, Portland, Maine. June 6, 2009.

This is the falls they were swimming up through.

In Sept. 2008, the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted an in-depth study of the Presumpscot River to determine how the river has responded to these two events. The full results of the study, authored by Donald Albert, P.E. of the Maine DEP, have recently been compiled and published. A PDF copy is here.

The report's findings are quite astounding. Prior to 1999, the Presumpscot could barely meet Maine's Class C water quality standards, which require 5 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved oxygen in the water at all times. The 2008 study found that what had been the most polluted reach of the river, below the S.D. Warren paper mill in Westbrook, now easily attains 7 parts per million of dissolved oxygen, even under high temperature, low-flow conditions. This means the lower Presumpscot River is now in full attainment of the dissolved oxygen standard of Maine's highest water quality classification, Class A, which requires 7 ppm of dissolved oxygen at all times. The study report states at 8:

"Early morning dissolved oxygen (DO) readings on the Presumpscot are compared to the minimum class C criteria of 5 ppm. In all cases, criteria are easily met and always exceeded 7.0 ppm."

It might seem at first glance that the difference between 5 ppm and 7 ppm of dissolved oxygen is not a big improvement or a big deal, but it is. Dissolved oxygen standards were created under the Clean Water Act and Maine law because they accurately determine what and how many aquatic organisms, including fish, can inhabit a river. Even in the most clean rivers and streams, the upper limit of dissolved oxygen levels is around 10 ppm, so it's a fairly narrow window, and native critters of Maine rivers have evolved to live in waters with 7-9 ppm. Dissolved oxygen levels above 7 ppm allow all of Maine's aquatic life to happily inhabit a river and reach their fullest potential. It's when dissolved oxygen levels fall below 7 ppm that aquatic life, especially the most oxygen-intensive animals like brook trout:

and Atlantic salmon:

and stoneflies:

... start to suffer and disappear. Any aquatic biologist in Maine will tell you that while Maine's Class C standards require at least 5 ppm of dissolved oxygen, this is far from optimal, sort of like saying that technically a prisoner can live on bread and water and Cheez-its ... for awhile ...

Here is a story from 1999 about the first, fledgling efforts to rescue the Presumpscot River from continued oblivion.

During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, very few people, including scientists, ever believed the Presumpscot River would attain Class A water quality during their lifetimes. During this period and in the decades prior, most people in southern Maine, and those who lived along the Presumpscot, had long given up hope that the Presumpscot River would ever be clean again. The challenge seemed too daunting and the prospect too remote. What then seemed a fantasy is now the reality. It has been done. It can be done.

Until 2002, these waterfalls on the Presumpscot River in Portland, Maine did not exist and this was the dirtiest river in New England.

In the end, it's about what we value.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Polling Just Doesn't Work for Some Questions.

The poll also showed 55% support continued offshore drilling (30% opposed), though more Democrats opposed drilling (48%) than supported it (34%). 43% said the spill makes them less likely to support drilling, compared with 21% who said it makes them more likely and 36% who said it makes no difference.

21 percent of respondents said the largest oil spill in U.S. history makes them more supportive of offshore oil drilling than they were before the largest oil spill in U.S. history?

This is why traditional polling techniques fall apart and become meaningless when applied to certain issues and questions.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why White People Shouldn't Write for Newspapers For Awhile.

From the Washington Post:

"The idealized vision of suburbia as a homogenous landscape of prosperity built around the nuclear family took another hit over the past decade, as suburbs became home to more poor people, immigrants, minorities, senior citizens and households with no children, according to a Brookings Institution report to be released Sunday."

So Portugese people are like ... crabgrass?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Severe Nutrient Loading at China Lake Outlet Stream, Winslow, Maine, October 2010.

The above photos were taken in China Lake Outlet Stream at the Garland Road Bridge in Winslow, Maine in October 2010 showing extremely thick growths of filamentous algae growing in the stream bed.

This area is about 100 yards above the confluence of China Lake Outlet Stream with the Sebasticook River. The stream here is shallow and fast moving, which discounts the Sebasticook River itself as being the source of the nutrients encouraging the algae growth. This algae is growing in stream water solely from China Lake Stream.

This type of algae growth, especially at this density, is not due to naturally occuring conditions. From our understanding and experience, filamentous algae growths like these in a fast-moving stream are indicative of a nutrient surplus of nitrogen or phosphorus or both. These algae growths suggest a possible contribution of the Kennebec Sanitary District (KSD) wastewater discharge, located several miles upstream in East Vassalboro, in addition to non-point source inputs along the stream (cow manure, faulty septic systems, lawn fertilizer, etc.).

As you can see in the photos, the growths are so thick that they are destroying most of the aquatic insect and fish habitat in the stream where the algae is growing. This stream reach should be (and could now be) Atlantic salmon spawning and juvenile rearing habitat. There are now Atlantic salmon documented to be ascending the Sebasticook (4 large adults were passed at Benton Falls Dam in 2009). These salmon and their offspring are protected as endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Earlier in 2009, in September, on a field trip a mile farther upstream to examine a streamside archaeological site, myself (Doug Watts) and Bruce Bourque, chief archaeologist with the Maine State Museum and Bob Doyle, retired Maine State Geologist, observed similarly thick growths of filamentous algae in the streambed.

An open question is whether the manipulation of outflows from China Lake, now regulated well above its natural levels to provide sufficient 'dilution' for the KSD wastewater, is contributing in some way to this stream degradation. We are now looking into this.

Here are two stills from the video, shot in September 2009. The streamers of algae are about 6 feet long. Unpolluted streams do not have algae growths like this.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Is it hard for you to pronounce the word Queequeg?

This is not meant to be accusatory. Just curious.

Back in 2001, my brother Tim Watts named their dog Queequeg, after the face-tattooed Maori harpooner in Moby Dick. As far as I know, the name is pronounced "Kwee-kwegg." We've had Queequeg living at our house in Maine since fall 2008. He likes it. I think.

But I have noticed, upon introducing Queequeg to various folks around town, that many people have a hard time pronouncing his name, even after I repeat it to them slowly, one syllable at a time. Some of them literally give up.

I've never found this name, Queequeg, a hard name or word to pronounce, at least as we pronounce it. But apparently a lot of people find it very frustrating to vocalize. I wonder why.

I'm not sure where or how Herman Melville came up with the word, or if it is actually the name of a Maori harpooner he might have met or heard of during his whaling days, or even if we are pronouncing it correctly.

But it does get me to thinking about my friend Ralph Keef of Hermon, Maine, outside of Bangor. Ralph was president of the Maine Council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation during the late 1990s when I was the secretary. At that time, I was living where I do now, in Augusta, on the lower Kennebec River, and I had a project I was trying to bring to fruition which involved removing a small, 19th century dam on Cobbosseecontee Stream in downtown Gardiner, Maine. And Ralph, God love him, could not pronounce the word Cobbosseecontee, and he would always ask me at meetings to pronounce the word for him when that item came up on our agenda.

And he didn't even want to touch Passagassawaukeg, the stream running into Belfast Bay in Belfast, Maine. And he definitely didn't want to touch Sedgeunkedunk, the stream running into the Penobscot River in South Brewer, across the river from Bangor.

All these names are Abenaki Indian place names, of course, and the latter two are Penobscot with a bit of Passamaquoddy language thrown in, since the two languages are quite closely related. Once you get the hang of how to let the repeating syllables roll off your tongue, they are very easy to say quickly. Since Abenaki was never a written language, the words Cobbosseecontee, Passagassawaukeag and Sedgeunkedunk are nothing more or less than phonetic depictions of how they were spoken by native speakers, like a paper map with lines and arrows of how to get to someone's house, as in the map is not the territory. Just a map.

This makes me wonder if there are some cultural barriers to pronouncing words, as in if some combinations of syllables are literally harder for some people to pull off than they are for other people. Certainly in French, there is a set of nasal and mid-throat sounds, like in the first names Raoul or Real or Guillaume, which are not easy for English speaking people to master since English has no spoken words that utilize these vocalizations. It's almost like a guitarist used to playing blues in E natural and suddenly has to play a polka song in C# minor. Everything goes haywire and nothing is familiar.


When I ran for the Maine Legislature in 2000 I did door to door visits all over Sand Hill in Augusta, which is the old French and Franco-Canadian section of town, where for the older set, French is their first and preferred language. On one nice sunny fall afternoon I stopped at the house of Real Doyon, who was mowing his lawn. I had his name on my voting list so I asked him if he was Real Doyon and introduced myself, and in doing so completely mangled both his first and last name. He was very patient and friendly and taught me how to pronounce his name but I still mangled it and I was very embarrassed.

Suffice to say that there is no way to write in letters or syllables how to properly pronounce Real Doyon, except that it is pronounced nothing like it is spelled. Basically you have to ignore all the consonants and pronounce all the vowels completely differently than they look. I can sort of do it now, but certainly not as well as Real Doyon can. But at least he was nice about it.

UPDATE: There is good authority that Abenaki Indians in Maine during the Contact Period had a very hard time saying English words with the phoneme "r" within them and pronounced them with an "ell" sound. And obviously, as anyone from eastern New England knows, the phoneme "r" in the middle of word is silent, as in pahk the cah, whereas the same speakers freely use the phoneme "r" when it begins a word, as in railroad yahd. My brother Tim uses the typical southeastern Massachusetts dialect, such as pronouncing "effort" as "effitt", here.

My Dead Eel Photo is in the Huffington Post

The Huffington Post used my photo of an eel killed in the turbines of the Benton Falls Dam in 2004 for a truly icky, but unrelated, story about eels, and apparently, a heavy bout of drinking.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Quabbin and Wachusett Dams need to be removed now.

It's kind of sad when you know that in the "Hub of the Universe" in Boston, Massachusetts, these educated folks don't even know where their own water comes from and they panic when it's declared unsafe. Boo hoo. Drill a well in Quincy. Oops it's polluted. Drill a well in Chelsea, oops, oh maybe in Somerville, oops, or Malden, oh deear, Eleanor. We've polluted the whole place !!!!

I have to laugh because the only reason Boston destroyed four beautiful towns in the Swift River Valley by eminent domain in the 1930s is because the people of Boston deliberately destroyed all of their own local water supplies by pollution. And they laughed about it. Ha ha ha.

The wheel of progress is moved by the momentum of apathy and inertia and greed. Mostly greed.

It was ghastly wrong to build the Quabbin and Wachusett Dams. They were built for the wrong reasons and today exist for the wrong reasons. These dams destroyed some of the most beautiful places in Massachusetts.

These dams were mistakes. They should now be admitted as the mistakes they were. They were built from hubris and greed.

Boston now has the technology to get all of the water it needs from desalination plants in Boston Harbor. The lowly city of Brockton, my proud place of birth, is now getting much of its drinking water from a desalination plant in Montaup Bay (Mount Hope Bay) in North Dighton, just below Taunton. Boston has absolutely no need of water from the Swift River or the Quinapoxet or Trout Brook in Holden and Princeton and Boylston. If Brockton can do it, Boston certainly can.

Isn't this why Boston has MIT? Can't MIT even figure out how to purify water from the Charles River?

The people of the Swift River and Quinapoxet River valleys deserve to have their towns, their rivers, their landscapes, their heritages, and at least their cemeteries, returned to them. Boston had no right to take these towns and valleys and streams from the people who lived in them and called them home. It was terribly wrong when it was done in the 1930s and to leave it this way is far more wrong today.

Boston needs to climb out of the 1920s. The rest of us are waiting.

UPDATE: My father, Allan Watts, with his friend Albert Titcomb from Charlestown, pruned commercial apple orchards in Bolton, Sterling, Berlin and Hudson in Central Mass. for a living during the winter for Bob Davis, Nathan Chandler and Chedco Farms for three decades. Around 1979 we were at Tight Lines, a fishing and hunting shop in West Bridgewater and found a new book put out by Fran Smith of the Southeastern Mass. chapter of Trout Unlimited that listed 30 of the best trout fishing spots in eastern and central Mass. with detailed maps, directions and what type of approaches worked best at each spot. As a teenage fly fishing junkie, I ate up the book in about an hour and bugged the hell out of my dad to go fishing at all these places. It turned out that the Quinapoxet River (which he called Hoxie Poxie just to bug me) was just a few miles from where he pruned apple trees. So he and I started going fishing at the Quinapoxet, near its junction with Trout Brook in Holden. I had never seen such a beautiful river, and it was full of trout (tho, hard to catch), and the Quinapoxet became a place where my dad and I went fishing whenever we could and we had some of our best times together. Later, as I learned more history and looked at maps, I discovered that we were only fishing in the very small part of the Quinapoxet River that had not been flooded and destroyed by dams long before I was born and most of it was totally lost and forgotten under the Quinapoxet Reservoir and the Wachusett Reservoir. I haven't been to the Quinapoxet since me and my dad last fished it around 1981. I wonder if it is still as beautiful as it was then.

UPDATE WITH STUPID PRANK BY MY DAD: Usually after fishing the Quinapoxet, long after dark we'd go to the McDonald's in Clinton, Mass. to get something to eat before driving back to Easton. This is where I first saw my Dad tormenting innocent McDonald's employees. At this time, McDonald's had just started selling Chicken McNuggets, and you could order 6 or 9 or 12. So my Dad would go up to the counter and ask for 15 McNuggets, and the high school kid would patiently say, you can order 6, 9 or 12. So my Dad would keep asking if he could order 15 McNuggets just to see if they could figure out that 6 + 9 = 15. He said every now and then the kid at McDonald's would smile at him and get it.

Me and Queequeg T. Dog, Ph.D. saw a Pileated Woodpecker in Augusta, Maine

This winter, in February, me and Queequeg T. Dog, Ph.D. saw some massive holes dug out of white pine trees across the street. They were big enough to put softballs into.

On Friday, we finally saw the sawyer. The photo is blurry but you can see her red cap. It's a Pileated Woodpecker, standing on the ground, out behind Stone Street in Augusta. We tried to get closer, but Queequeg wanted to get even closer, so that was the end of the photo session.

UPDATE: Queequeg and I also saw a big coyote/wolf across the street last week around midnight. Probly 45-50 pounds. Maine "coyotes" are very obviously coyotes with a lot of remnant wolf genes mixed in. As time goes on I think the wolf genes are becoming more dominant and the coyote genes less, thus leading to a larger, more wolf-like coyote with every generation. Which you need to take down moose and deer.

Scientus Pro Publica No. 28

Scientus Pro Publica is a way to disseminate original science writing on a frequent basis. I have joined their merry jamboree and invite you to take a look at their entire menu.

Wild Turkey Egg -- Newly hatched.

The egg of a wild American Turkey, which I presume was hatched and not dug up and eaten by a raccoon, from the red oak forest across the street, Augusta, Maine, April 30, 2010. The small, circular pecking hole in the left hand shell fragment suggests the baby turkey did hatch successfully. Let's hope so.

The wild Turkey was hunted to total extinction in New England by 1900. These animals were only restored by a miracle: live trapping young turkeys from the Adirondacks in the 1980s and releasing them into the New England states.

This cannot work with Passenger Pigeons, since we killed every one of them. It cannot happen with Great Auks, since we killed every one of them. It cannot happen with Ivory Billed Woodpeckers, since we killed every one of them. It cannot happen with Sea Minks, since we killed every one of them.

And it cannot happen with the American Chestnut, which the wild Turkey used as its principal food, because a fungus on a boat from Europe wiped them all out in the 1930s and no cure has ever since been found.


Seems like us Americans are always saying Oops.

Trout Lily -- Erythronium americanum

The Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) flowers in late April and early May in central Maine, where I live, at about altitude 100 feet above mean sea level.

The flowers are short-lived, lasting perhaps a week, and are timed to coincide with when the leaves of the maples and oaks are just emerging (size of a mouse's ear) and lots of sunlight is still reaching the forest floor.

Trout lilies are perennials and grow in large colonies and take their name, trout lily, because their oval leaves contain odd tannish spots and blotches and look somewhat like the body of a brook trout and they like to grow along the banks of trout streams.

Trout lilies seem quite fussy about where they live. There is one small rill across the street, which dries up in summer, that holds all of them. They are entirely absent from the other several acres of the same contiguous woodland.

Getting a little beetle sitting there was a big plus.

If you haven't, get a copy of Richard Dawkins' book, "The Extended Phenotype," in which he makes a credible case that flowering plants have evolved to control the minds and bodies of insects and use them as pollinating 'tools' in a relationship which borders somewhere between symbiotic and one-sided in favor of the plants. Quite interesting.

Yay, I'm Not Crippled and I Fixed the Lawn Mower !!!

Sometimes you have to accept good things in small packages. Yesterday I did something to my lower back and knew, from past experience, it was going to soon feel like someone was sticking a Bowie knife into the muscles around by tailbone, with the blood groove, if I did not lie down and remain completely immobile. So I did and read a book from 1988 about string theory. This morning the muscle spasms stopped. Thank God. Last time this happened I could not move for a week.

And on Saturday, the handle snapped off the lawn mower because the handle is made of cheap, crappy metal alloy. The choice was fix it somehow or buy a new lawn mower for $150. I came up with a trailer trash solution using an old metal mop handle and our Skil saw with a metal cutting blade and $1.50 of nuts and bolts and lock washers from the hardware store down the street. And it actually works. Then the lawn mower ran out of gas.

But at least I can move now and the lawn mower will work if it has gas.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

My Brother Tim Watts Kicks Ass.

My brother Tim Watts, with his new Spock Beard, speaks truth to power on the radio on April 29 in Brockton, Massachusetts about water pollution.

Listen here.

Joyeux de Science Carnival !!!