July 18, 2008
Brockton Accused of Killing Kingston’s Water Wildlife ; Environmental Groups May Sue Over City’s Water Supply Operations
By EDWARD B. COLBY
KINGSTON - Local environmental groups plan to sue federal and state regulators and the city of Brockton, alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act and mismanagement of water resources in Southeastern Massachusetts.The alleged mismanagement covers two watersheds in the region, but the effects on the Jones River fish population alone are powerful, the groups say.
The herring that spawn in the river are "on the verge of disappearing, and it's in large part that their habitat has shrunk so small; the water quality is so poor and the water flow is so low," said Pine duBois, executive director of the Jones River Watershed Association.
The native brook trout is disappearing for similar reasons, environmental groups say.
"The fish that are prized fish, that are native fish, that are indicative of healthy ecosystems, are dwindling to such low populations that we should take bold measures to improve their habitat," duBois said.
In June, the Jones River Watershed Association, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Taunton River Watershed Alliance, the Eel River Watershed Association, and Save The Bay/Narragansett sent a notice of intent to sue, charging the Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Environmental Protection and the city of Brockton with the degradation of the Taunton River and south coastal watersheds, including Kingston's Silver Lake and Jones River.
"The ongoing environmental damage caused by Brockton's water supply operations, as approved by DEP and ignored by EPA, includes but is not limited to destruction of fisheries, rare species, aquatic habitat and wildlife," the notice said.
The EPA, DEP, and Brockton have 60 days to respond before the environmental groups file a lawsuit.
The groups say that Brockton takes an excessive amount of water from Silver Lake, its main water supply. They also say Brockton diverts polluted water from Monponsett Pond and Furnace Pond into Silver Lake, and that the EPA and DEP have been unlawfully exempting such "pollutant discharges."
DuBois said that because of excessive withdrawals from the lake, the upper part of the Jones River generally does not flow for eight months of the year. The drawdowns cause algae blooms that suffocate the freshwater mussels that try to grow on the sides of the lake, she said.
The groups propose that Brockton reduce its withdrawals from Silver Lake by using water from the new Aquaria desalinization plant in Dighton.
Brockton Department of Public Works Commissioner Michael Thoreson sharply rejected that idea Wednesday.
Thoreson said the Legislature gave Brockton the "registered right" to take a certain amount of water out of Silver Lake in perpetuity.
"They want us to lower our registered right, which we will not do," said Thoreson, an ex officio member of the city's water commission.
According to Thoreson, the desalinated water "is a backup system only" for Brockton: "We don't have to use one gallon of this water if we don't want to."
A 1995 DEP consent order directed Brockton to find an alternative water supply, namely Aquaria, said Jack Clarke, the director of public policy and government relations for Mass Audobon.
Thoreson did say that Brockton is in discussions with Aquaria "to do some kind of buy from them on a daily basis."
Nevertheless, his words indicate that the longstanding dispute over Brockton's water use is not likely to be resolved quickly.
The environmental groups' notice said Brockton's water supply operations have caused "severe degradation of water resources" in the two watersheds since at least 1982.
Clarke said the legal action follows more than 20 years of administrative appeals to the state and federal government to protect the watersheds.
"What we would like to do is settle this out of court, obviously," he said.
Spokesman Edmund Coletta said the DEP is reviewing the notice of intent.
"It's the first step toward a lawsuit, so I really can't comment on it any further than that," he said.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.
Edward B. Colby may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published by By EDWARD B. COLBY, The Patriot Ledger.
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