Berkshire Woods and Waters: An update on the acid rain monitoring project

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In 1983, the University of Massachusetts, through the UMass Amherst Water Resources Research Center, began monitoring the effects of acid rain on surface waters statewide and reporting their findings. This unique collaborative effort involved hundreds of citizen volunteers across the commonwealth working in partnership with the University of Massachusetts scientists to accomplish three goals:

Develop a nearly comprehensive picture of the acidity status and general water chemistry of lakes and streams in Massachusetts

Determine trends related to acid deposition impacts in a significant number of lakes and streams.

Revisit a smaller number of these long-term trend sites to evaluate the effects of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments.

The first Sunday in April is usually the day volunteers collect. Hundreds of helpers pick up their sample bottles, equipment and boots and wade out into streams and ponds. We have a half-dozen people here in the Berkshires who collect and deliver the samples to Westfield State University, where more monitors analyze them. This project has continued for over 30 years, with a brief hiatus due to funding issues.

ARM data helped to make a case for the re-authorization of the Clean Air Act by monitoring to check for any big changes, especially for trends that may indicate a serious condition is changing for the worse. Changes can negatively impact wildlife, data which is necessary for fishermen and wildlife experts. The effects of climate change can be seen in altered amounts of precipitation depending on where we live. Tracking these changes is important for long-term planning for infrastructure, agriculture, and overall species health.

Is it still a problem? With the enactment of the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, acid rain has been reduced, but by no means eliminated. The act put restrictions on emissions for power plants so there is definitely less measurable sulfate that gets into the water. However, with increased vehicular traffic, more nitrogen oxides are now released in the atmosphere and end up in surface and ground water. And there is more sodium chloride due to road salt. The continued trend in decreasing sulfate confirms that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 is having a positive effect in the quality of the state's surface water quality. Road salting in the winter continues to affect the concentration of sodium and calcium in the water bodies. Continued monitoring will help find out whether nitrate pollution is countering the beneficial effect of decreased sulfates.

UMass had hoped we would be in a much better shape today. But we are not, and it is examining the issues that prevent a feeling of huge success. One issue is that 65 percent of the water bodies that are being followed have not improved significantly over time. They are as acidic as they were 20 or 30 years ago. Still, this means that 35 percent have improved, which is testimony that legislation to reduce air pollution has had a positive effect on our surface waters.

Ideally, UMass would like to see the pH readings in our waters to be at least 7.0 (neutral) and with a high alkalinity count, which helps buffer the acidity. Here are the readings of some of our local waters based upon the 2017 readings. Most have remained relatively the same over the past 30 years.

Belmont Reservoir in Hinsdale with 4.98 pH and 0.2 alkalinity remains one of the most acidic waters in Massachusetts. Other local waters currently being tested annually with pH/alkalinity figures are: Cheshire Reservoir North in Cheshire, 8.17/86.2; Long Pond in Great Barrington, 7.68/71.9; Upper Spectacle Pond in Sandisfield, 6.29/8.4; Lake Garfield in Monterey, 7.52/49.0; Long Pond in Great Barrington, 7.68/71.9; Soda Creek in Sheffield, 6.87/15.7; Williams River in West Stockbridge, 7.83/106.6; Sleepy Hollow Brook in Richmond, 7.91/156.9; Barton Brook in Dalton, 7.29/23.0; Anthony Brook in Dalton, 6.7/ 7.0; Kilburn Brook in Peru, 6.79/7.8; Bilodeau Brook in Hinsdale, 7.02/22.1; Benton Brook in Otis, 5.98/4.8 and Walker Brook in Becket, 6.84/10.8.

The Berkshires is in much better shape than the rest of the Commonwealth, primarily due to the amount of limestone which we have in our soil which buffers the acidic rain.

Massachusetts Junior Conservation Camp

Since 1949, the Massachusetts Junior Conservation Camp has provided young people with a unique experience of conservation, shooting sports and outdoor recreation education. The 12-day program introduces girls and boys ages 13-17 years old to the ethical responsibilities of hunting and fishing in order to foster careful stewardship of natural resources.

The Berkshire County League of Sportsmen sponsor two youths (a boy and a girl) each year, as do several other local sportsmen's clubs. They are good investments in the future of our outdoor sports.

Rainy weather may have prevented the traditional outdoor graduation ceremony of the MJCC in August, but didn't dampen the spirits of the campers and staff, who together made life-long memories during the two-week experience. Camper survey comments were positive: "The Camp was much better than I expected!' and "I never thought it would be so much fun!" When asked about the need to add to the program, one camper noted: "Nothing! I learned so much!"

During the graduation ceremony, awards for the Camp Competition Day were presented and congratulations were offered by Stephen Johnson, MJCC Board President; Ron Amidon, Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game; Jack Buckley, MassWildlife Director, and Lt. Tara Carlow of the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

Local winners included: Shotgun — 1st place Mathieu Ouellett (Worthington); Rifle — 2nd place Mathieu Ouellett (Worthington), Black Powder — 1st place Lane Hughes (Lanesboro). Congratulations to both local youths.

Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: 413-637-1818.

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