Commentary: Two key initiatives address Westport’s water quality woes

By David Cole, Westport Planning Board member
Posted 1/31/19

Prospects are very favorable for achieving major progress in the coming year to solve the most serious water quality problems in the Town of Westport because of two major developments.

First, …

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Commentary: Two key initiatives address Westport’s water quality woes


Prospects are very favorable for achieving major progress in the coming year to solve the most serious water quality problems in the Town of Westport because of two major developments.

First, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently approved release of funds ($150,000) enabling work to proceed on preparation of a plan to solve the most important water, wastewater and storm water issues in Westport.

The proposed Water Plan will address the broad range of water quality issues focusing initially on the East Branch of the Westport River and its tributaries running up to the Route 6 corridor and areas north of it. This is where recent studies have shown that the most serious water quality problems exist.

As this East Branch planning work proceeds, the town is expecting to apply for additional funding this year to undertake a similar effort for the rest of Westport including the West Branch and the pond areas in northwest Westport that flow into the Sakonnet River. Ideally this second phase of water planning will begin as the first phase nears completion by the end of the year. Increased levels of nutrient pollution and algae blooms in the West Branch in recent years have added to the sense of urgency to move ahead with the second phase as quickly as possible.

A consulting team of two engineering firms, Kleinfelder and Pare, was selected last summer to carry out the first phase of water planning. This consultant team was chosen from among four high quality applicants. One favorable consideration was that there are some local residents on this team who are very knowledgeable about local conditions.

The consulting team will be guided and overseen by a Water Plan Working Group with representation from several town boards and led by the vice chairman of the Planning Board, Robert Daylor, who has world-wide experience in water and environmental planning.

The ambitious agenda for the water plan is to identify and prioritize the most serious water problems, evaluate ways to address those problems, and recommend measures that the team deems most effective and efficient. The team will also evaluate and suggest ways to improve the town's water management systems. The plan will include recommendations as to potential funding sources and cost sharing arrangements to spread the burden across the whole town rather than concentrating it on a limited number of individual homeowners. The final plan will include possible articles for Town Meeting, suggestions for implementation by town boards and committees for areas that fall within their purview and actions by residents, businesses and others to help support the successful realization of the plan.

A first well-attended public meeting was convened by the consulting team and the working group on October 3, 2018, to get public input. A vimeo of this meeting is accessible at the following link: Three more public meetings will be convened over the coming year to get further public input to successive aspects of the plan formulation.

The second important development was approval of a Nutrient Management Assistance EPA/DEP grant of $184,700 that will be available in the spring and will provide assistance to Westport farmers to improve their nutrient management practices to reduce the nutrient run-off into the Westport River. This program will be administered by the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts (MACD) through its Bristol County Conservation District. Experts from the Bristol County Conservation District will work with the Westport Agricultural Commission and agricultural operators in selected segments of the Westport River.

MACD's approach will be to conduct outreach and education with farmers to solicit their interest in the program; to develop Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)-approved conservation plans outlining best management practices to reduce pollutant runoff; to assist landowners to obtain access to financial resources; to finalize a watershed plan; to ensure farmers prepare operation and maintenance plans; and to provide oversight and reporting on the project. The goal is to engage in a cooperative effort among governmental agencies, private organizations, and the public to achieve reductions in nutrient runoff from the farms. Although the formal starting date for this activity is expected in the Spring, the Bristol County Conservation District representatives have already met with the Westport Agricultural Commission and with some farm owners.

These two activities – the Water Plan and the Nutrient Management Assistance – should produce significant results over the coming year. The first phase of the Water Plan is due to be completed by the end of the year and then followed up with a second phase covering the rest of the town. The nutrient program, that may well run for several years, is expected to have engaged with several farmers in this year to generate nutrient management plans for their farms. The Water Plan Working Group will see that these two activities are coordinated and mutually supportive.

— David Cole, Westport Planning Board

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