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PWA Open House Focuses On Local Water Preservation

Published: February 18, 2017

Newtown residents, like many others across Connecticut and most other developed nations, tend to expect that clean, drinkable water will come out every time they turn on the kitchen or bathroom taps. Locally, related town staffers, as well as volunteers and supporters of the Newtown Forest Association (NFA) and the Pootatuck Watershed Association (PWA) want to do everything possible to be sure it stays that way.

To that end, the NFA and PWA joined together February 11 for a rescheduled open house and series of talks at the C.H. Booth Library.

The open house incorporated detailed exhibits and presentations on recent work by the PWA created by Kyra Middeleer, as well as the first audience screening of the recently revised and updated film, Our Sole Source, a short film by resident Dan Holmes chronicling how Newtown is working to preserve all its various aquifers.

Presenters included NFA leader Joe Hovious, Town Planning Director George Benson, PWA 2016 intern Cole Baldino, and Mr Holmes.

Subjects examined were: 
*Identifying current and potential threats threatening Newtown’s water resources and supply.
*How PWA and other local organizations are working together to address these threats with the goal of sustaining quality water resources.
*What simple actions businesses and homeowners can do to help ensure an adequate supply of clean water.

Attendees were also able to take away various handouts and information.

According to NFA/PWA representative Sarah Middeleer, the Newtown Land Use Agency also printed maps and presentation boards, while Deputy Director of Planning and Land Use Rob Sibley provided much of the key information presented, as well as photos on completed green infrastructure projects in Newtown. Volunteers besides the PWA board who gave their time include Neil Baldino, Gunnar Cedergren, Janet Hovious, and Kyra Middeleer.

Mr Hovious opened the event with some historical perspective, noting that the PWA was formalized in 2006, after members informally organized following the second of two oil spills at Fairfield Hills that severely threatened the Class 1 trout breeding ground and related resources in Deep Brook, the Pootatuck River, and a tributary known as “Oil Creek.”

Since then the group has provided leadership on or facilitated projects including mass willow plantings to enhance waterway canopy coverage, and regular water sampling to ensure the waterways remain biologically optimal for the many species, endangered or otherwise, that make the wetlands home. The water sampling project, utilizing a corps of volunteers, has since been expanded to all watersheds across Newtown, Mr Hovious said.

Mr Benson said even before his arrival in Newtown, the community had a long history of protecting its environment and natural resources through an occasionally updated Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).

“Our POCD has more baseline information that any other area town on its waterways and watersheds,” Mr Benson said, crediting volunteers with applying for and using grants to study Newtown’s pristine trout breeding and management areas. Those volunteers also spearhead river walks and clean-up initiatives around various waterways, he said.

Successful Intern Project

Mr Benson also credited presenter and scientist Cole Baldino, who was the PWA summer intern for 2016, and who used a grant from a regional family foundation to further studies of the trout habitats. Now a fisheries expert, Mr Baldino’s presentation provided an accessible introduction to newcomers by defining what a watershed is, and the major threats and challenges local watersheds face from impervious surface runoff, pesticides, fertilizer, and other nonpoint source pollution.

With more than 50 percent of Newtown being served by the Pootatuck watershed, and the community’s top-rated trout stream, he noted that Newtown offers much in the form of biodiversity and recreational opportunity. Mr Baldino then reviewed the outcomes of his grant-funded summer project, which encompassed 2.1 miles of brook and brown trout habitat.

The project first defined reaches of local waterways, habitat assessment, stream bank stabilization, and the installation or improvement of buffer and canopy cover. Then, as 150 new native trout were reintroduced, volunteers continued work expanding optimal gravel beds for spawning, then monitoring and maintaining those areas.

Mr Baldino said volunteers were able to recycle dozens of used and discarded Christmas trees in bank stabilization measures, which also helped rechannel water flow to create many more deep pools and pockets where trout thrive.

He then called for volunteers to participate in a summer of 2017 root wad project, and a separate effort to relocate a walking trail along Oil Creek.

In closing, he also called on all town residents to help protect the delicate environmental balance of local aquifers by not fertilizing or treating their lawns and properties with chemical fertilizer less than 48 hours before anticipated rain; to create rain barrel reserves on their properties to employ for private irrigation; to consider washing their vehicles on lawns instead of on impervious surfaces to enhance the filtration of soaps and other chemicals; and to consider using broken surface paving stones or other products instead of contiguous poured surfacing for walkways, patios and other residential installations.

He also urged large property owners to let more of their maintained grass yards become natural meadows, or to use barrier plantings to help catch and filter runoff between downward sloping yards and adjacent impervious streets and sidewalks.

‘Our Sole Source’

Mr Holmes stepped up to the front to introduce the new edit of his passion project, Our Sole Source. The former 31-minute film was trimmed to a more easily viewable 17 minutes, and incorporated new added footage amassed since the film’s 2012 debut.

He told the audience that he had literally driven to the event from the editor’s studio, and he was seeing the new version in its entirety for the first time along with attendees.

Aquarion Water company staffer and Newtown resident Randy Walker was the final presenter. He covered the status of Connecticut’s current drought emergency, bringing the issue back local saying, “The Pootatuck is an asset we can’t afford to lose.”

Noting that 50 percent of all local and residential irrigation is wasted, Mr Walker followed in the footsteps of Mr Baldino calling for further preservation efforts. He said after a concentrated door-to-door campaign in Greenwich last year, the community was able to cut its overall water use in half.

“We are at a 100-year low in our reserves of water,” he explained, adding that as water level drops, higher concentrations of toxins are pulled from surfaces into smaller reserves of water, creating an exponentially worse situation.

“Protecting water for Newtown is a core value,” he said. “We have a reputation for doing the right thing. But we need 26,000 people to understand that core value. Conservation is an individual thing, and part of successful conservation is practicing it when there is plenty of water.”

For more information on the PWA, to explore possible volunteer projects, or to learn more about water preservation practice, call 203-426-3136, or visit pootatuckwatershed.org.

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