River Fall
Westport River Watershed Alliance
River News - October, 2013
Thanks for taking the time to check out our newsletter. Please support the WRWA with a tax-deductible contribution. Your support makes our work possible. 
Watershed Issues
Matthew Patrick, Executive Director 

There is lots of exciting news about our projects in the watershed. Things are happening so quickly however, that our WIF (Watershed Improvement Fund), that we use to pay the costs of keeping these projects going, is dwindling down. WIF money is used exclusively for these projects so; please consider making a tax deductible contribution to WIF this year.


First off, Hix Bridge: Let's begin with a report regarding the hearing for the Environmental Bond Bill September 18th. I went to testify in favor of the Hix Bridge amendment requesting about $300,000 to remove the rubble from under the bridge that is restricting life giving tidal flow to the river north of the bridge. I brought with me news of all the support from town including a letter of support from the Board of Selectmen. During the hearing before the Joint Committee on Environmental Affairs I told the committee that the Hix Bridge project was perhaps the most cost effective item in the bill. Not only will the Commonwealth capture a 60% cost of the project investment from the Army Corps of Engineers, but they will catalyze the restoration of a significant oyster bed that will provide local shell fishermen with food and income for decades to come. I also told them that the more of those little filter feeders we have in our coastal waters, the cleaner our water will be and the less we will have to spend for nitrogen mitigation when the Mass Estuaries Project's total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) are enforced. The Chairs, Senator Marc Pacheco and Representative Anne Gobi, welcomed me back and were quite happy with my short and to the point testimony. Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Paul Schmid, who was intendance for the entire hearing, informed me that the measure for Hix Bridge will be included in the bill, a vast advantage over being submitted as an amendment. It was good to visit with many of my former colleagues and friends including, Speaker De Leo, after the hearing.


The study, designed by retired EPA scientist Ken Perez, PHD, has been put in place in two oyster cages north of the bridge. Each cage has three shelves, one at the bottom and the other two at progressively higher levels in the water. The idea is to demonstrate that oysters in a stronger tidal flow will grow larger and healthier than the oysters at or near the bottom where the flow is much slower. Gary Sherman, Westport's Shellfish Warden, Jack Skammels and Deb Porr helped Ken and myself immensely by volunteering their time to get the cages out in the water. My friend and former House colleague, Steve D'Amico from Seekonk, provided the essential service of scuba diving to make sure the traps were securely located and the oysters in the trays were not piled up on top of each other. He also informed us that two of the trays fell out, never to be found, while we were moving them. We had to come back the following week with replacements once again requiring Steve's diving service along with Gary and Deb's help. Jack's help went well beyond the ordinary by coming back to look for the lost but never to be found trays.  We at WRWA want to thank all the folks that made this possible including Ken, Gary, Steve, Jack and Deb for giving generously of their time.


319 Middle School Rain Garden Project: See article below about recent watershed improvement work completed at the Westport Middle School. 


Drift Road/Sam Tripp Brook Project: Planning and design work has begun to intercept the extensive storm water road run-off finding its way down Drift Road into Sam Tripp Brook. Likely sights for BMPs (best management practices) have been identified along Drift Road south of the brook and a team of interested people including our own Betsy White will be meeting to visit and discuss  the best ones shortly.


West Branch Testing: Roberta has written a new proposal seeking funding to complete the testing necessary to identify persistent sources of coliform bacteria in the West Branch that have kept shellfish beds closed since 2009. We will use the information to mobilize the Town to get the clean-up measures designed and implemented. We could use help funding this through donations to our WIF (Watershed Improvement Fund) which dedicates funding exclusively to projects.


Donate To Our Annual Fund Drive!
Whether we're tracking bacteria sources in the West Branch, or raising awareness through our K-12th grade educational programs, it's your continued support that makes our work possible. With your help we are managing stormwater runoff and other pollution sources that affect our drinking water, shellfish beds, fisheries and other resources within our watershed. Follow the link below to donate today, and help us drive this year's goal out of the park.
River Stories
Betsy White, Advocacy Director
Oysters in tanks at Lees Wharf


Oyster Day Care on Lees Wharf

Westport Harbor on a sunny summer day-gulls, kayakers, people fishing, cormorants diving, fishing boats and oyster tanks. Oyster tanks? Certainly. Welcome to Lees Wharf Oyster Farm. Any day of the week, from May to August, you will find Cindy Lees diligently tending to her ever-growing crop of young oysters that are contained in these tanks. The waters in and around Westport Harbor are ideal for aquaculture such as this, being the right temperature for survival and providing the nutrients needed by the shellfish for food. Oysters optimally feed and grow in water temperatures greater than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and spawn in temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees. In the summer months the Westport River provides these favorable conditions, and Cindy has taken advantage of this for her oyster-growing business.

Cindy has been raising oysters at Westport Point for three years. Before they even started, she and her husband Albert did extensive research on the process. They consulted other growers and experts, including Dale Leavitt, Associate Professor of Biology at Roger Williams University (RWU), and a leading authority on aquaculture. As things proceeded, they conceived of and built much of the equipment they now use, modifying and adapting things as they went. Examples of this are the silos used to contain the oysters as they grow in the tanks. These silos are essentially white buckets with the bottoms cut out and replaced with mesh which can be changed out as the oysters grow. The buckets sit upright in the tanks and have river water constantly being pumped through them. The water moves through a system of PVC pipes designed by the Lees. Water is pumped up from the River through these pipes using small 2.5 HP pool pumps. It flows continuously through all of the silos which sit in three large tanks and then it's returned back to the River. Oysters require constantly moving water in order to feed, so the pumps must run twenty-four hours a day, since oysters will die off very quickly in still water. In order to protect their investment, the Lees keep a backup generator nearby just in case. The tanks are covered by sheets of plastic when the sorting is done to protect the oysters from birds, people, and rainwater.

Oyster spat growing

The Lees Wharf Oyster Company grows healthy oysters from 2mm to 16-20mm so that they can be transplanted into the Westport River ecosystem.  This year, in the spring, Cindy received approximately one million oyster seeds the size of pepper flakes from an approved oyster hatchery in Maine. Throughout the summer, as the oysters grew, they were sorted, graded, and redistributed in the silos. Initially, Cindy started out with 5 silos in one tank and eventually expanded to 72 silos contained in three tanks. Student interns from RWU would help Cindy sort the oysters during the week, which would take from 3 to seven hours, depending on how many helping hands there were. They would also assist in the labor-intensive cleaning of the silos, tanks, and pumps, which is a smelly, yet critical part of the operation. The happier the oysters, the more they poop, and Cindy had a lot of very happy oysters. Additionally, algae had to be periodically scrubbed off the pipes and tank surfaces to prevent the clogging of the pipes and choking of the oysters. Oyster seed must be tended to on a daily basis. On weekends Cindy would be working solo six to eight hours at a time just to clean and sort the hundreds of thousands of tiny oysters. Needless to say, she can probably name every fishing boat that unloads at the commercial docks on a daily basis and when they will show up.


When the oysters were large enough, Cindy packed them in fish totes and sold them to an oyster farmer who will grow them to legal size before selling them to licensed wholesalers in the region.  It usually takes 16 weeks for the oysters to grow large enough for Cindy to sell, and this summer, she raised approximately 700,000 16-20mm oysters. She had only a thirty-five percent mortality rate, which is relatively low in the oyster-growing business.

WRWA would like to recognize and applaud Cindy Lees for successfully crafting a business that not only utilizes a local resource without harm, the Westport River, but by doing so celebrates and supports the existence of such a resource in so many ways. By employing students interested in aquaculture, she allows them to gain experience and knowledge that no classroom could provide. She established a local business and collaborates with other local and regional businesses, which in turn supports the local economy. She is working to put oysters back into the River, where they serve many functions in the ecosystem. Yes, they are good to eat, which is the principal purpose.  However, in addition, oysters eat plankton and algae that live on the surface of the water. Oysters are filter feeders (also known as suspension feeders) that feed by straining suspended matter and food particles from water. Evidence shows that their capacity to filter water can improve the quality of water, making them valuable for coastal regions in which water quality is poor. Because of their filtering abilities, they are used in some coastal regions to help control water pollutants. In addition, they are also considered "foundation species", which means they are important in the river environment because they provide habitat for other species as well as food for predators.


Please take the time to visit the Lees Wharf Oyster Farm website: http://www.leeswharf.com. And if you see Cindy on the wharf some hot summer day hunched over squinting at pepper flakes, take the time appreciate the hard work that goes into raising oysters and give her a big wave.

Call to Action -  Landfill Update
Betsy White, Advocacy Director

The South Coast Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow (ScACT) is planning a Boston visit to DEP headquarters on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 to demonstrate regional public opposition against the Cecil Smith Landfill capping proposal in North Dartmouth. This is an opportunity for South Coast residents to offer a show of public opposition against the landfill project, which is in the upper reaches of the Westport River and threatens the environmental quality of the area.  Buses will leave the Dartmouth Mall (near Pier 1) at 9 a.m. and will return by 3:30 p.m.


If you are interested in participating in this trip, please contact ScACT at (508) 995-0805 or email Southcoast.act@gmail.com. The more voices there are, the stronger the message.


You may also protect our community by signing the online petition. If you haven't done so already, please take a moment to submit your petition today and share the link with friends. All petitions will be printed and hand delivered on Oct 29th.  Thank you for your support.


Petition Link:





Beautiful and functional, Specially Designed Gardens Put Runoff to Good Use

Partnerships make it happen 

Roberta Carvalho, Science Director


Thanks to all the WRWA Volunteers who planted the raingardens.

This summer staff from the Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA), the Town of Westport Highway Department and engineers from the Norfolk Ram Group worked together to create more raingardens to clean up and slow down polluted runoff from roofs and parking lots at the Westport Middle School Complex. WRWA's water quality monitoring program and its mission to solve the pollution in the River were the driving force that allowed the project to be completed. WRWA wrote the grants that enabled the Town to obtain $390,000 in state funding for the construction of the stormwater treatment solutions.  Without such a joint effort, these projects wouldn't have happened. WRWA would like to thank the Westport Highway Department for all their work, especially Chris Gonsalves, Scott Boyd, Quentin Lord, Tony Medeiros, Andrew Sousa, Ian Morse, Paul Lourenco, and Scott Urban.


All this work is part of a multi-phase project to control stormwater runoff at the Head of Westport. The Town joined with the Buzzards Bay National Estuaries Program and the WRWA for assistance in competing for a section319 grant to fund the project. In Massachusetts, the 319 grant program is administered through the Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Watershed Management. This program provides communities with funds to design and build solutions to control polluted runoff from stormwater. The first phase of the project was the 2006 construction of a man-made wetland to treat road runoff from the East side of Old County Road. The latest work is partially complete and will slow down stormwater from the roofs and parking lots of the Westport Middle School Complex with stormwater basins and rain gardens.


More than 500 plants were put in the raingardens.

In early October, volunteers from WRWA planted the new gardens with over 500 flowers and shrubs. Plants were put in the gardens where water collects during rainstorms and helps the water filter back into the ground. The water that flows through raingardens is returned the ground and to the River in better condition and with fewer pollutants.


Another great feature of this project is that students in the Westport school system will learn about rain garden design and how it helps keep pollutants from getting into the river and wetlands. WRWA will teach sixth-graders at the middle school about this project that is right on their doorstep. With the school property less than half a mile from the river, the system will treat the major stormwater-runoff issue flowing from the west side.

The constructed wetland at the Head of Westport filled with stormwater runoff.


Ten years ago, WRWA water-quality testing identified the top of the East Branch of the Westport River (the Head) as one of the most polluted spots in the river. Bacteria counts were so high that the spot was unsuitable for swimming. Steps have already been taken to improve the health of the river there. The Town of Westport built a constructed wetland at the Head (behind the Osprey Sea Kayak) that handles stormwater runoff from the east side of Old County Road. It works much the same as a rain garden, capturing and filtering pollutants. The pollution-control project at the middle school adds to that work. WRWA has recorded lower bacteria levels at the Head of Westport. In general pollution levels are 90 percent lower than counts from10 years ago. Some of that is due to the constructed wetland, and also that there are now fewer livestock farms near the river, better land management practices and more frequent cleaning of the town's catch basins.

 What is a rain garden?

"Rain garden" has a much nicer ring than "bioretention cell." It's a manmade or natural depression in the ground that's used as a landscape design to catch and filter stormwater runoff as it slowly drains through the soil and replenishes groundwater. Rain gardens improve water quality by reducing and filtering runoff. The most polluted runoff occurs in the beginning of a rain shower as water rushes over hard surfaces. This water is the first to pick up sediments and pollutants. Rain gardens catch this water before it enters the storm drainage system. Sediments and pollutants settle out of the water and are absorbed by plant roots or treated through chemical processes in the soil. As asphalt replaces woodlands because of development, the natural order of recharging groundwater is upset. Rain gardens offer a simple solution to reverse damage caused by development.

How it works
These new gardens have layers of stone and an engineered soil mix that make them work. The rain gardens are dug down 5 feet, are about 6 feet across and vary in length. Each is filled with with 1 foot of assorted-size stone and 3 feet of soil mix - two parts coarse sand, two parts loam, and one part hardwood bark mulch. Think of it as a very sandy potting soil; it has that same rich look as high-quality soil. Each material plays a part - the sand and stone slowly draining the water down into the ground and the rest pulling out pollutants along the way. The mulch is especially effective, soaking up nitrogen, phosphorous, metals, oil and grease from the stormwater.


Project is Almost Complete

Future work will pick up again next summer, when school is not in session. Closer to the school, more rain gardens will be built along with vegetated swales and a recharge area. Vegetated swales act similar to rain gardens but are planted with just grass.  Stay tuned for more of the runoff rundown.


Send Us Your Lees Market Receipts
Lees Martket
Lees Supports the community


Shop at Lees Market in Westport and bring or mail your receipts to WRWA. Lees will donate 1% of the total to WRWA!




It's Never Too Early
WRWA's Gala in August.


We are looking ahead to next August 9th, 2014, our Summer Gala and invite you to join us at the first planning meeting on Friday November 15, 2013 at 4pm at the WRWA office 1151 Main Rd.


The Summer Gala is our major fundraiser and it is FUN! We need your ideas, energy, creativity, expertise and help. Please join us.


Many Thanks to Our Corporate Supporters

Lees Martket
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