|Commentary: Morse's Pond: a neglected jewel|
By John E. Ciolfi/ Guest Columnist
Thursday, March 23, 2006
is an amazing town. Wellesley is the best of the best: a great
community with an excellent town government, great schools, great
libraries, great businesses, great parks and Morse's Pond.
Pond is a jewel that works for the town. The Morse's Pond wells are a
primary source of drinking water for Wellesley. Morse's Pond works for
the town by saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars each year when
compared with water costs from MWRA via the Quabbin Reservoir.
providing the town with water, Morse's Pond provides the town with an
excellent public beach. My family regularly uses the beach in the
summer. Last summer, our son took swimming lessons there. The beach
area also has a play set, swings, room for playing ball, picnic tables,
BBQ grills, kayaks, hiking paths, cycling paths, and plenty of shade.
Each day when we go to the beach, our kids spend nearly the whole day
there. This differs from our experience at swimming pools, where after
about an hour they want to leave. Not only do our kids love the beach,
we do. We view Morse's Pond as an oasis providing a break from the busy
hustle of life.
Morse's Pond beach
only does Morse's Pond provide the town with a water supply, a great
beach and boating, it also provides the town with excellent fishing,
ice skating, bird watching, hiking and other outdoor activities. At 105
acres, Morse's Pond is the largest public open space in Wellesley,
which makes it a very valuable resource for Wellesley. Because of its
size and the variety of activities, the pond lets one get back in touch
with nature, enabling one to revive their soul.
pond also is a valuable educational resource. I find that when I take
my son to the beach, he is very curious about the pond. He asks many
questions. Taking kids to the beach is a fun and great way to teach our
youngsters about the value of ecosystems and how humans can help an
ecosystem or destroy it. There is a program at the Hunnewell Elementary
School that uses the pond for education about ecosystems. I feel that
Morse's Pond is an untapped resource for educating our youngsters about
how nature works. Education shouldn't be confined to four walls.
we first started going to the beach, I was curious if it was safe for
swimming. I was relieved to learn that it is regularly tested, and no
one I spoke with could clearly recall when it has been closed for
health reasons. It hasn't been closed since we've been going to the
beach. Contrast this with chlorinated swimming pools such as the
Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center pool in Newton, which was
closed eight times last summer for health reasons, as reported by the
Boston Globe on Aug. 14, 2005. According to the Center for Disease
Control and Prevention, stomach virus outbreaks caused by contaminated
recreational pools have been on the rise in recent years. This is
because pathogens such as cryptosporidium are resistant to chlorine.
Health-related outbreaks are much less likely to happen in Morse's
Pond, because it is a much larger body of water that is replenished
once a month by the water feeding into the pond.
amazing aspect of Morse's Pond is the lack of mosquitoes. There are
very few mosquitoes near the pond. We often spend the whole day at the
beach without seeing a single mosquito. Mosquitoes like still water,
such as water sitting in a bucket in your backyard. They don't like
moving water, and Morse's Pond is blessed with a high flow of water
into the pond. Furthermore, fish like mosquitoes, and there are plenty
of fish in the pond which enjoy eating mosquitoes. The fish also
provide great entertainment. My kids will spend hours watching and
chasing the fish at the beach. Fortunately, for us who dislike
mosquitoes, my kids are unable to catch the fish.
though we feel that the beach is a safer place to swim than pools, we
are concerned with the water clarity and quality. To help with water
clarity, the town hydrorakes weeds from the area near the beach. Even
with the hydroraking, we do see loose weeds floating on the beach which
makes the beach less attractive. In addition to the weeds one sees at
the pond, there is concern about algae. Aerators are used in the beach
swimming area to enhance water circulation which helps minimize algae.
In addition to the aerators, the town uses algaecides (copper sulfate)
and aluminum sulfate (alum) for phosphorous inactivation to control
algae in the southern portion of the pond. All evidence today indicates
these chemicals are safe if used wisely and at the right levels. The
last alum treatment at the beach was in 2002. The town used copper
sulfate in June 2004, and there were no treatments in 2005. While these
chemicals are approved for use in swimming areas, our family would feel
much better if there was no need for them.
Weeds and algae
Weeds and algae in the northwest cove of Morse's Pond
the northern part of the pond, the weeds and algae blooms are so great
that they create an opaque covering on the pond surface. One form of
algae is particularly disconcerting - the toxic cyanobacteria
(blue-green algae), which does occur in the pond. Thus, reducing the
algae in the pond is not only important for the health and beauty of
the pond, it is important to reduce algae for human health reasons. The
management plan is to catch algae blooms before they start in the
northern area of the pond and migrate down to the beach in the south.
favorite activity of ours is canoeing. For those who haven't canoed
Morse's Pond, it's a fun way to spend a day. When you canoe, you will
most likely see the Morse's Pond swan family and other great birds.
When in the canoe, it's hard to believe that you are in the middle of a
highly populated area. You feel like you are in the Maine backwoods.
You only realize you're in a populated area when you look down at the
water. Canoeing in the pond, outside of the beach area, you will see
weeds, many pond weeds. The dominant weeds are Eurasian milfoil and
fanwort, invasive plants introduced by man. When canoeing over acres of
these weeds, it gives you an eerie feeling. You feel like you are
canoeing on a bright green lawn with the plants just touching the water
surface. Another dominant weed is the invasive lily pad. Lily pads are
highly concentrated in the northern basin of Morse's Pond. Canoeing
over lily pads is much more challenging. You get a real workout as the
drag from the lily pads really halts forward progress of the canoe. It
almost feels like you are canoeing on land.
Morse's Pond swan family
you are really adventurous, you can canoe to the northern basin of the
pond and up Jennings Brook, which will bring you to Leary's Fine Wine
and Spirits by Route 9. While canoeing, you will see many beautiful
purple plants several feet high. This beautiful plant is known as
loosestrife and is an invasive plant that was introduced by humans.
Each year, the amount of loosestrife grows greatly. Neighbors of mine
can recall when there was basically no loosestrife. The rapid growth of
loosestrife greatly speeds up the transformation of a pond to land, a
process known as eutrophication. The canoe trip up the brook is very
pleasant, but one unfortunate issue is that trash (e.g., cans and
bottles) wash into the brook. Thus, the return trip often ends up with
the carrying out of trash.
Pond is in trouble because of human intervention. We introduced
invasive plant species that are choking the pond. Not only did we
introduce invasive species, but we also feed the invasive plants and
the algae with tons of potent lawn fertilizers. Morse's Pond has a
large watershed (5,300 acres) that feeds water to the pond. A large
portion of the watershed is in Wellesley. Many homes in the watershed
have beautiful green lawns, thanks to the lawn fertilizers. Thus, the
water entering Morse's Pond contains excessive amounts of phosphorous
from the lawn fertilizers. The phosphorous feeds the invasive weeds and
algae, creating mutant-like settings in some portions of the pond. Many
people don't understand how large the Morse's Pond watershed is. It is
more than 50 times the size of the pond. For example, a friend of mine
grew up on Boulder Brook Road and had no idea that runoff from their
lawn was adversely affecting Morse's Pond.
activity that we'd love to be able to do on the pond is sailing.
Obviously the massive amount of weeds prevents us from sailing. A
couple of decades ago, this wasn't the case. There were lots of sunfish
moored off Morse's Pond beach. The inability to sail on the pond at
present is reflective of the state of the pond.
invasive plant that has been introduced to Morse's Pond is the water
chestnut. Water chestnuts are highly invasive plants whose sticky nuts
were most likely brought into Morse's Pond by water fowl. Fortunately,
because of volunteer efforts, water chestnuts are not a major problem
in the pond. Thirteen years ago, a DPW consultant found large patches,
and DPW asked pond resident Arnold Reif to hand-harvest them, and
supplied an intern to help. Although he has continued to coordinate
harvesting by volunteers ever since, it has been impossible to
eradicate this prolific weed completely. Nowadays in summer, each
biweekly harvesting outing brings out five to six kayaks. Afterwards,
all visible water chestnuts are in bags rather on than on the pond. The
town's consultant, Dr. Wagner from ENSR, has estimated that if the
water chestnuts had been allowed to get out of control, it would have
cost the town $200,000 to $300,000 to get them under control.
Otherwise, Morse's Pond "would lose virtually all utility as a
recreational resource - you can't swim, boat or fish in a chestnut
bed." This success story proves to me that if we were to fund
additional efforts to fix and manage the pond, we will see Morse's Pond
returned to its former glory.
Pond management plan
intervention is needed to turn around the decline of Morse's Pond. Our
presence and activities are adversely affecting the pond. To correct
and maintain the health of the pond, we need a management plan.
than a year ago, with joint funding from the town and the Community
Preservation Commission, a committee was established to develop a
comprehensive plan for the management of Morse's Pond. The committee
consisted of members from the Natural Resources Commission, Recreation
Commission and the Department of Public Works, including the town
engineer and superintendent of the Water Department, and
representatives from the Friends of Morses Pond. To help with the
development of the management plan, proposals were requested from
consulting firms and from these proposals, ENSR International was
chosen. The consulting effort was led by Dr. Kenneth J. Wagner, a
certified lake manager. It is understood that his help was invaluable
and you would recognize this if you attended any of the public meetings
where he answered our questions and helped us to understand the
complexities of managing Morse's Pond.
on past and current studies and monitoring records of Morse's Pond, the
committee studied the problems facing the pond in the short and long
term. In a series of public meetings including stakeholders who have an
interest in the pond, a community-wide set of goals and priorities were
established for the future of the pond. In turn, alternative measures
for the management plan were tested against these goals. Out of this
careful, detailed, and lengthy process, the Comprehensive Plan for the
Management of Morses Pond was developed.
of the Management Plan for Morses Pond is covered by the Warrant
Article 21 being presented to the Town Meeting this spring beginning at
the end of this month. Advisory, by a 12-2 vote, is recommending the
plan be funded by the town.
Doing nothing is not the plan
we continue on the current track, "a do-nothing management plan," the
town will continue to watch the pond decline. Residents who have lived
in Wellesley for years have seen this happen. It was just a few decades
ago that one could swim in the northern portion of the pond. People
used to sail on the pond, but can no longer do so because of the weeds.
Things have changed dramatically in the past few decades. In the next
20 years or so, the northern basin will become a wetland. But, the
northern basin is very important for the health of Morse's Pond. This
is where water flowing into the pond can be slowed down so particles
can settle out. By doing nothing, the wetland that will form in the
northern basin will most likely consist of a dominate plant, the
invasive loosestrife. It will most likely become an ineffective wetland
and the function the northern basin performs for the pond will
disappear. This will result in reduced water clarity, increased pond
scum and a less attractive beach. If water clarity degrades enough, the
beach may need to close in the coming decades.
now, we are blessed with very few mosquitoes near Morse's Pond.
However, if a large wetland takes over the northern basin, we may see
an increase in mosquitoes because of the increase in stagnant water
pockets. The town may be forced to use pesticides in this area to
control West Nile virus or another disease transmitted by mosquitoes.
The thought of having to use pesticides near our water supply concerns
Comprehensive Plan for Managing Morses Pond
As noted above, the
comprehensive plan is being submitted to the Wellesley 2006 Town
Meeting for funding as Warrant Article 21. (A copy of the 186 page
"Comprehensive Plans for the Management of Morse's Pond" is available
on http://www.morsespond.org.) The plan makes lots of sense. It has
many aspects, all geared to improving the health of the Pond for the
key aspect of the plan is to replace the 20-plus-year-old weed
harvester currently owned by the town. This harvester is too tired, too
small and has demonstrated its inability to harvest the weeds
throughout the pond correctly. The Community Preservation Commission
has allocated funds for the purchase of a new, superior harvester -
subject to funding of the overall Comprehensive Plan for Managing
Morses Pond. The plan is to keep invasive rooted plants in check and
encourage native low growing native plants to flourish. Last summer, an
experiment was run using the old harvester to duplicate the kind of
comprehensive harvesting that a new harvester might perform. The
experiment was run in the northeast cove of the pond, and validated
some aspects of the efficacy of harvesting rooted plants as part of the
plan for Morse's Pond.
it should be noted that harvesting rooted plants will not stop algae
growth. In the past, algae blooms have been treated only after they
have appeared and are moving from north (Route 9) to south (the beach)
down the pond following the water flow. The plan is to stop the algae
blooms in the northern basin before they progress and to establish
programs which will reduce phosphorous concentrations in storm surges
that encourage and support algae growth. By controlling algae at the
source, the town should be able to reduce or eliminate the chemicals
used in the southern portion of the pond, which will make our family
feel much better.
plan also calls for addressing the issues in the northern basin such
that the basin doesn't regress to an ineffective wetland. The issues of
the northern basin will most likely be addressed by dredging the basin
to restore the detention capacity of the basin and to support the storm
surge alum treatment as necessary. It is my understanding that
additional dredging beyond the northern basin as the primary thrust of
a plan to manage Morse's Pond was considered but rejected and not
considered cost effective. Most areas of the bottom of the pond consist
of several feet of organic rich sediments that have accumulated over
the years. These sediments support dense growth of invasive weeds.
Thus, dredging the full pond could seem to be beneficial in the near
term. However, unless the pond is dredged so it will be more than 10
feet deep, which could interfere with the Morse's Pond water wells,
invasive rooted plant would return after a while and, of course, algae
blooms would not be affected without continued alum treatments.
the plan is implemented, we should see improvements from year to year.
The beach will become more attractive with better water clarity,
reduced algae and fewer weeds. Eventually, we will see a return of
sailing on the pond. More Wellesley residents will use the pond as it
becomes more attractive. Most importantly, the plan will reverse the
decline of the pond, thereby insuring that it will be a valued resource
for future generations.
people in Wellesley are not aware of the state of Morse's Pond. I
believe saying "out of sight, out of mind" applies to many and if they
were to take a look at the pond, they would become strong advocates for
the Comprehensive Plan for the Management of Morses Pond. The Friends
of Morses Pond has been in existence for 35 years and has done a lot to
help the pond in addition to efforts by NRC, DPW and Recreation. FOMP
is a large group of citizens interested in giving back to their
environment and community by working on issues affecting Morse's Pond.
But, unfortunately these groups don't have the sufficient resources to
counter the negative changes done by humans to the pond.
the past few years, I've been attending the public meetings about
Morse's Pond. In addition, I have become involved with the Friends of
Morses Pond. I have set up a Web site, http://www.morsespond.org, and
an e-mail list server. I'm donating my time and money toward Morse's
Pond because I believe I can make a difference. I also believe that
Wellesley is a town, which when presented with a well researched and
sensible plan, will adopt the plan rather than let the jewel of
Wellesley go to neglect.
John E. Ciolfi lives on Pickerel Road.