A reservoir off Red Brook Road near the Mashpee/Falmouth town line began to refill with water after sandbags were deployed on Wednesday, June 16, to stem a leak in a water control structure.
But the return of the reservoir, which is a flooded former cranberry bog that is sometimes referred to as Red Brook Pond by residents, may be short-lived.
“This is just a temporary measure,” said Catherine E. Laurent, the Mashpee public works director. “Because of the concern expressed by residents about the release of water from the artificial pond, we’re working with the Town of Falmouth to place these sandbags there while we continue to investigate.”
The southern stretch of Red Brook marks the Mashpee/Falmouth town line and when the water control structure in Red Brook Road failed last summer, causing the reservoir to drain, officials from both towns were initially stumped by who owned the structure.
The abandoned cranberry bog property to the north of the roadway was once part of the Makepeace Cranberry Company but until July of last year had long been a flooded, pond-like body of water.
“Those used to be cranberry bogs, which is why there is a water control structure there,” Ms. Laurent said last year when the flooded bog first drained. “There’s nothing I’ve seen through the deeds, there isn’t any reference to the water control structure that is there.”
In the months since the reservoir leaked, Mashpee voters at Town Meeting approved a road layout of Red Brook Road that included the control structure within the road and the town submitted a grant application for repairs and restoration work to the state Division of Ecological Restoration.
“[The Red Brook culvert] needs to be assessed by an ecological engineer who is proficient in that area,” said Ashley Fisher, Mashpee’s director of natural resources. “We need to do it the right way, it’s not going to be a dammed-up cranberry bog; that’s not healthy for anyone.”
When the reservoir was dammed, it acted as a sink for nutrients and contaminants, Ms. Fisher said. When the bog drained last summer, a section of Hamblin pond was closed to shellfishing due to concerns about E. coli bacteria and nutrient contamination from Red Brook.
Ms. Fisher said the shellfish closure will remain in place until a long-term solution for the area is in place.
The future project at Red Brook will likely include the entire river corridor, from the brook’s headwaters east of Southcape Resort and Club to the culvert on Red Brook Road, Ms. Laurent said.
The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is interested in working with the town to restore fish passage to the brook, and the town also needs to consider the resilience of the low-lying Red Brook Road, Ms. Laurent said.
Red Brook Road was identified in a draft Municipal Vulnerability Report published last year by the town as a low-lying road of concern that is vulnerable to the projected increases in sea level, coastal storms and precipitation due to climate change.
The stretch of the road near the reservoir is notorious for flooding and, before the reservoir drained, rainstorms would cause it to overflow the edge of the roadway.
“We’re going to look at the culvert, look at it in terms of resilience moving forward in terms of climate change,” Ms. Laurent said. “There are multiple components, which is our argument for designating this as a priority project.”
While some residents have raised concerns that the drained bog has harmed wildlife in the area, town officials have pushed back on such claims.
“[Abutters] are making a lot of assumptions that this current [drained] condition is going to result in a lot of mosquitos and wildlife impacts,” Andrew R. McManus, the Mashpee conservation agent, said. “It’s not on that level. It’s not any type of environmental catastrophe.”
While some fish may have died when the reservoir first drained, most of the wildlife in the area is resilient and capable of adapting to the change in water levels, Mr. McManus said. Moreover, with a free-flowing brook and less stagnant water, the drained reservoir provides less breeding habitat for mosquitos, he said.
“Before any kind of [cranberry bog] installation, this was a naturally flowing brook or stream that was probably based off of groundwater input,” Mr. McManus said. “It’s called Red Brook Road for a reason.”
Moving forward, the Town of Mashpee “will be working with the abutters and trying to figure out the best solution for not only the abutters and the town but the ecosystem as a whole,” he said.
For now though, the reservoir will return as the Town of Mashpee continues to investigate what caused the water control structure to fail and how to restore the ecological integrity of the area.