Monday, March 18, 2019

Water, Water, Everywhere

By Beth Sullivan
It is official. What we all knew from observations, this has been the wettest winter on record. While I am truly glad we didn’t get all 9+inches of rain as snow this season, the water is challenging in many ways. Trails are wet or washed out. Work is delayed. But it is not all bad.
Overall, I think this will be a great spring for amphibians. All the vernal pools and transient wetlands are completely filled. The water table is high. With an upcoming spell of warming weather, we might actually experience a few tentative movements of early amphibians as they break hibernation and head toward these inviting waterways. Keep an eye open on a warm, rainy evening in the next several weeks. I heard wood-frogs and a peeper March 15.
I grew up with my shoes off and feet in the water as early as possible. I have a very early memory of catching a small turtle, newly out of hibernation, on an Easter Sunday morning. Needless to say I wasn’t dressed appropriately for wading. It remains one of my favorite memories.
We did get into the woods this week, inspecting an area where we need to remove an old bridge. Not only is it becoming unstable, it is also blocking the flow of the little stream it crosses. Last year there were spotted salamander eggs in there, so we want to do this as soon as possible so as not to disturb the process in a few weeks. I was quite surprised and upset to see a really large, bright green algae bloom throughout several of the pools. It seems too early for such growth. This area is not truly close to homes, but it is apparent that there is some nutrient getting into the ground water and supporting this growth. If it expands too much, or thickens up in the water, it may be impossible to support the amphibians intending to lay eggs there.
Natural wetlands along waterways filter runoff and pollutants

Early algae blooms are a sign of too much nitrogen in water from runoff or even in ground water.

The flooding waters have had some serious consequences.

Impaired waterway

We have to be aware of how our presence in one place, may have a big impact farther down stream, literally. For the last several years, Wequetequock Cove, in Stonington has been listed as an impaired waterway. Its prime source of water comes from the Anguilla Brook, which has its headwaters just over the line in North Stonington, and travels through Stonington to its outflow by Greenhaven Road. Those of us who live in town know how the cove looks during the summer, with huge mats of foul algae choking the cove. There may be no one specific cause, but rather a combination of them.
The Eastern CT Conservation District group (ECCD) is planning a study of the Anguilla Brook watershed to help determine the sources of pollution. They are teaming up with other local organizations, including Clean Up Sound and Harbor (CUSH), Save the Bay, and CT Sea Grant, as well as engaging educators and land owners including Avalonia Land Conservancy that owns and protects many properties along the waterway. Through this spring, teams will sample water at a number of places from headwaters to outflow, to try and pinpoint pollution sources. Along with this effort, a group is beginning to organize a clean-up at several sites along the brook. Maybe there will be answers, and maybe in a few years, there will be a turnaround in the water quality of the beautiful cove.
Aerial photograph of Wequetequock Cove. Area labeled Crowley is now preserved by Avalonia. DEEP Photo.

The headwaters of Anguilla Brook emerge from a lovely wetland near the North Stonington border.
Anguilla Brook runs through Stonington, and with an old dam removed here, it flows freely through a newly created wet meadow.


Some good news

On another front, there is good news: a bill has made it through Congress and has been signed into law, declaring the Wood /Pawcatuck River complex as “Wild and Scenic” . This designation is a testament to a lot of hard work over the years to remove dams, clean up polluted sites, and a lot of dedication by the people who love the river, on both sides of the border.
It is a time of water. Be careful on trails where water may have washed away footings or where rocks may be slippery. Please enjoy the running streams and the quiet pools. Take time to look closely. The wetlands are where spring really begins.
Vernal pools will soon teem with amphibians.


Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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