An advisory posted recently on the town website tells residents the waters in Sandwich’s freshwater ponds are pretty clean.
“The bathing beaches are well below maximum contaminant levels for E. coli and Enterococcus,” according to the posting. “All bathing beaches meet swimming water quality.”
But Health Director David B. Mason, whose department has been preoccupied for the past several months with coronavirus concerns, says he wishes the waters were even cleaner.
“We were going to ask for WIIF funding for Shawme Pond at the annual Town Meeting, but Town Meeting was postponed—and the agenda shortened—because of COVID-19,” he said during a telephone interview this week. “It’s on the radar. Maybe it will be on the agenda for a fall special Town Meeting—if we have one.”
He was referring to the Water Infrastructure Investment Fund, a special reserve fund approved by voters last year to finance an ongoing clean up of the town’s water and wastewater.
Among the sidelined cleanup plans are bioretention systems that would filter out nutrients running into Shawme and other ponds. The filters would reduce or eliminate the algae blooms that often cover the ponds’ surfaces in summer.
WIIF money could ultimately fund sophisticated sewer and wastewater treatment facilities and pay for new water supplies over a 60-year period.
Sandwich’s neighbors, including Mashpee and Falmouth, have found blue-green algae, also known as Cyanobacteria, which can make people and pets ill if ingested.
“We haven’t seen any in Sandwich this summer, but we’re on the lookout for it,” Mr. Mason said.
The health department is, however, warning beachgoers to report any itchy skin rashes to their doctors. Swimmer’s itch, also known as cercarial dermatitis, is always a concern when the weather heats up, Mr. Mason said.
The rash is an allergic reaction to parasites in duck feces.
Mr. Mason said the coronavirus has dulled the urgency of cleaning up the waterways, although there is still some movement going on in the background.
The town continues to hold discussions with other Upper Cape Towns—and with Wright-Pierce, its environmental consultant—about how to improve the water quality of inland and coastal water resources.
The towns have proposed a regional solution that would involve using the military base’s sewage treatment facility. That proposal is pending before military officials in Washington, DC.
At the local level, Mr. Mason has said, pond cleanup steps could include limiting the use of fertilizers, upgrading septic systems, changing roadways and drainage systems and controlling invasive species of plants and animals.
Those remedies and more were outlined last year in a report on the health of Sandwich’s 12 ponds written by environmental consultant Kenneth J. Wagner of Water Resource Services.
Overall, Mr. Wagner found the town’s ponds to be healthy, but he suggested careful monitoring of all the ponds and remedial action for some.
“For the most part [the ponds] are meeting their designated uses, but in some cases there are signs of current impairment or indications for larger problems in the not-too-distant future,” Mr. Wagner wrote in his report to the Sandwich Board of Selectmen.
He cited problems of algae, low oxygen, cyanobacteria, invasive reeds and Asian clams in several of the so-called “great ponds.” Among the most in need of remediation were Peters, Lower Shawme, Hoxie, Spectacle, Lawrence and Pimlico ponds.
Mr. Mason agreed.
“The ponds will be our first priority, and simultaneously we are working with the other Upper Cape towns on finding a possible regional wastewater treatment solution—possibly using the facility at Joint Base Cape Cod—and have had a number of meetings on the subject,” Mr. Mason said last summer.
This summer, however, Mr. Mason and his staff have been busy fielding calls about the coronavirus and making sure town buildings and businesses are safe for members of the public.
“I’ve received a lot of questions lately, but yours is the first about wastewater I’ve heard in months. It’s on the back burner, but it’s simmering,” he said.