Wakeby Pond Health Advisory

A public health advisory notice posted at Ryder Conservation Lands warns that cyanobacteria is present in the waters of Wakeby Pond in this file photograph from the summer of 2020.

With cyanobacteria blooms becoming an ever-growing problem in Cape Cod ponds, a group of Sandwich residents will be trained on how to test the water themselves.

Nancy Horn and Christine Dennis are both residents on the south side of Peters Pond, who have known each other since they were children vacationing in the pondside cottages. As adults, the fond memories of summers spent swimming in the pond led them to move their families into homes along the water.

However, advisories about cyanobacteria in local ponds seemed to be popping more regularly than usual. Confusing matters is the fact that different agencies use different scales when determining how severe a bloom is.

Ms. Horn said that the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) uses a conservative scale, so it takes a smaller amount of cyanobacteria in a test to trigger an advisory. The town uses another scale, and the state uses yet another.

Additionally, the APCC was testing ponds only about every two weeks and taking samples in only certain parts of the waterbodies. Those small samples are not necessarily indicative of the health of the whole pond, Ms. Horn said. Further complicating the issue is the fact that blooms are also known to clear up as quickly as they form, so levels of the bacteria are constantly changing.

Advisories also had the effect of making residents believe that beaches were closed, even though they were only being warned of the presence of the bacteria, so that they could make an informed decision about swimming in the water. Beaches were never closed in Sandwich due to cyanobacteria last summer, and no regulations currently exist as to what levels of the bacteria warrant a pond’s closure.

Ponds are also tested regularly for E. coli, which does result in closures if detected.

Wanting to be more informed about the issues, Ms. Horn and Ms. Dennis created the residents group, Friends of Peters Pond, last summer.

“We wanted to partner with the town health department to solve this together,” Ms. Horn said.

She said that town Health Agent David Mason has three people in his office and 12 ponds in town, so one of the ways they felt they could help is to get a group of people together to learn how to test for cyanobacteria. This training will enable the residents to test more areas of the ponds on a more regular basis to get a better idea of what is happening in the water.

Ms. Dennis said that the training is being done by Shasten S. Sherwell, a fellow for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast New England Program. Ms. Shasten will teach 28 residents about what causes cyanobacteria and what it looks like, as well as train them on how to take a sample of water and identify the bacteria under a microscope.

The training will take place on Thursday, May 19.

Ms. Dennis said that they had hoped to find 10 people who were interested in being trained and they ended up with nearly three times that goal.

“We’ve got interested parties attending from Ashumet Pond, Mashpee-Wakeby Pond, and the Wampanoag Tribe,” she said. “These other pond groups are almost clamoring to get in on this.”

Having residents trained and conducting testing will help residents quickly know the cyanobacteria levels in the areas they are testing in—be they the public beaches, the residential beaches, at the boat ramp, or elsewhere. With so many boots on the ground, the residents will even be able to advise the health department when the bacteria is detected.

Ms. Dennis said that the information will also be entered into an app that anyone can get on their phone, BloomWatch. People who have the app installed and have allowed for notifications can be alerted as soon as a bloom is reported on their pond.

While the training is going to help residents become more informed about pond health, it is just the beginning of their mission to protect, preserve, educate, and advocate for pond health.

The ponds are also impacted by stormwater runoff and invasive species, Ms. Dennis said, all of which can contribute to cyanobacteria growth.

“We’re first going to learn how to monitor the ponds,” Ms. Horn said. “Then we’ll work with the town on how to address the root causes of cyanobacteria.”

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