Gene Chague: Acid rain monitoring still going on
If you saw someone wearing boots and poking around in a nearby stream during that blustery snowstorm last Sunday, don't worry.
They were perfectly sane people called acid rain monitors (ARM's), collecting their annual spring water samples from select water bodies throughout the Commonwealth. All statewide sampling must be done on the same day (ARM Sunday).
The ARM project is headed up by UMass, which assigns the collection bottles, locations, collection and chain of custody sheets and collection procedures. The volunteers collect from designated locations every year and must adhere to strict sampling standards to ensure that the data collected are not skewed in any way.
The goals of this project are to determine the overall trend of sensitivity to acidification in Massachusetts surface waters and whether the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment has resulted in improved water quality. The study provides consistent sampling over a period of years. The data are analyzed by scientists in order to monitor the effects of acid rain in our waters over a long period of time.
Between 1983 and 1985, the ARM Project used as many as 1,000 citizen volunteers to collect and help analyze more than 40,000 samples from 4,100 water bodies. They also monitored 572 lakes and streams for eight successive years (1985 to 1993) with approximately 300 volunteers. Most of our local sampling was conducted by Trout Unlimited volunteers.
The results for the initial phases of the project showed:
• 6 percent of lakes and streams in Massachusetts were acidified
• 57 percent were sufficiently low in acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) to be considered threatened by acid deposition
• 37 percent were not threatened
• Lakes were slightly more sensitive than streams
• Geographically, higher ANC was typical of extreme western parts of the state and lower ANC was typical of the north-central and southeastern portions
From 1983 to 1993, ARM surveyed 83 percent of all named water bodies in Massachusetts. The project resumed in April of 2001 after an eight-year hiatus Volunteers currently sample pH and alkalinity (ANC) for 150 lakes, ponds, and streams across the Commonwealth.
Some 26 long-term sites are analyzed further for major anions, cations, and color. These sites are revisited as priority sites because historically they were acidified, very low in alkalinity, or demonstrated a significant trend for acidification.
Here in the Berkshires, 16 water bodies are currently being analyzed. They are: Anthony and Barton Brooks in Dalton, Belmont Reservoir and Bilodeau Brook in Hinsdale, Benton Brook in Otis, Bog Pond in Savoy, Cady Brook in Washington, Cheshire Reservoir (north), Sleepy Hollow Brook in Richmond, Soda Creek in Sheffield, Upper Spectacle Pond in Sandisfield, Walker Brook in Becket, Williams River in West Stockbridge, Kilburn Brook in Peru, Lake Garfield in Monterey, and Long Pond in Great Barrington. A couple of other sites are covered in nearby Hampden County.
Currently, there are about 90 volunteer collectors statewide. We have eight in the Berkshires: Dr. Richard Greene of Tyringham, Marc Hoechstetter of Cummington, Lauren Gaherty of Pittsfield, Robert Paradyz of Hinsdale, Bob Kross of East Otis, Pat Storey of Tolland and my wife Jan and me. Most collectors have been doing so for about 20 years with a couple around 30 years.
So were there any changes since 1983? Here are the results of the most recent analysis from UMass:
• While most sites show no significant change in pH or ANC over time, more sites have seen an acidity decrease than an increase since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990 (pH and ANC are higher now, which is good).
• In 1988, of the 150 sites sampled, 124 sites were categorized Sensitive or worse, with 19 sites listed as Acidified. By 2010, 10 of those 19 sites are no longer Acidified, showing a marked improvement over the years.
• For the 26 long-term sites, most cations show no significant change, except sodium and chloride have noticeably increased – very likely from road salting practices.
• Sulfate shows a strong decrease for over two-thirds of the sites, a clear consequence of the Clean Air Act. Nitrate does not show the same trend, because the increase in emissions from vehicles is greater than the decrease in emissions from industry.
The results of our local waters appear to mirror the rest of the state. Currently, all but one water body have pH factors above 6 with half having readings of 7 or above (a pH of 7 is considered neutral). Belmont Reservoir in Hinsdale still has pH readings of around 5.25, but even that shows some improvement over the years. In the 1980's, it had pH readings in the 3 and 4 range.
More details can be found in the UMass full report at: http://www.umass.edu/tei/wrrc/arm.
The collectors gladly volunteer their time each year on this project because they are concerned about the health of our waters and they know that the data obtained is important.
Over the years, they have hiked remote icy wood roads, negotiated slippery banks, climbed over high snow banks, braved stormy weather and falling limbs (like last Sunday) getting these samples. They expected nothing in return other than knowing that they were doing something important for our environment.
Well, they were pleasantly surprised when in 2013 (30th anniversary of the ARM project) they all received formal Citations from Governor Deval Patrick, "In appreciation of their commitment to ecosystems of the Commonwealth."
The Worthington Rod & Gun Club at 458 Dingle Road, Worthington, is conducting a Basic Hunter Education Course on April 18, 19, 21 and 22 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Call 508-389-7830 to enroll.
Sometimes I do not receive the most current trout stocking information by deadline. In such cases, click onto mass.gov/trout for the information, which is updated daily.