Westport River Watershed Alliance

RIVER NEWS

January 2016

A Message from the Executive Director   
 
Executive Director Deborah Weaver

2015 has been an exciting year at the WRWA.  I have  been the Director for just over a year, and during that time 

focused on rebuilding our events calendar, strengthening alliances with other area non-profits, and  guiding WRWA through the complicated process of designing and permitting the future River Center.  We have built our staff capacity through the Commonwealth Corps Program, with two marvelous young people doing a year of service in our education programs. They have greatly enhanced our education programs, volunteer engagement and after school programs. Scientifically, we are in the middle of a two-year study of Cockeast Pond nutrient loading.  And the funds WRWA secured ($1.0 million though a Massachusetts bond bill) are now being applied to the feasibility study for the Hix Bridge rubble removal and oyster bed project. 

 
Most of all we are proud of you, our members, whose support and assistance- of all kinds- enables us to protect, preserve and restore our beloved estuary.   2016 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Watershed Alliance. We hope that you will join us on July 16th in celebration of how far we have come from our founding as the Westport River Defense Fund in 1976.  Our move to the River Center in the year ahead offers promise of even greater challenges and opportunities.  The WRWA board and staff thank you for all you have done to sustain our success over our 40 years. We will do our best to continue earning your trust and commitment to our mission.
WRWA celebrating 40 years protecting the Westport River Watershed
Anniversary Concert with Tom Rush planned for July 16
Tom Rush

2016 marks our 40th Anniversary!  The Watershed Alliance was formed in 1976 by a group of concerned Westport residents, addressing pollution in the River.  Over 40 years, the organization has grown and matured, providing valuable scientific data and popular education programs to students in Westport and surrounding areas.
 
Please come to our our 40th Anniversary celebration concert on July 16, with Tom Rush at the Westport Rivers Vineyard, co-presented with the Narrows Center for the Arts and sponsored in part by Lafrance Hospitality.  For more information, visit www.westportwatershed.org, or www.narrowscenter.org.  Tickets will be on sale soon.

BUOY the Winter Blues show and Brushes & Brews in February
 
Our third annual "BUOY THE WINTER BLUES" art show, to be held February 27 - March 5 at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery in Westport, is shaping up to be our best yet.
 
This event is a fun distraction from the winter doldrums, and also an important fundraiser for WRWA.  The show begins on Saturday, February 27 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and continues on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.  Additional viewing hours will be from Wednesday, March 3 through Friday, March 5 from 1 to 4 p.m. The silent auction will continue on Saturday, March 5, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the reception from 5 to 7.  Bids can be placed on the art works any time during this week-long period, with the auction ending after the reception. Music will be provided by jazz guitarist John Stein.  Wine and beer provided by Westport Rivers and Buzzards Bay. 
 
Volunteers are needed for two-hour time slots during the week of the show, greeting guests and managing the show at the gallery. For info, or to volunteer, email Steve at [email protected].
Create your own version of this familiar West Branch scene.

Brushes and Brews  
Enjoy some beer from Buzzards Bay Brewing, and take an art lesson from local artists Pam Clarkson and Barbara Healy at the Shattuck Gallery on February 27, at 5 - 7 p.m.  
$35 fee - or become a WRWA member at $50 and participate for free.
We hope to see you in February!
Contact WRWA at 508-636-3016 or
[email protected] for more information.
Scholarship Funds Available for Local Students 

The Westport River Watershed Alliance is pleased to offer a $1,000 scholarship opportunity for graduating seniors in the Westport River watershed: Fall River, Dartmouth, Freetown, Westport, Little Compton, and Tiverton. The award was made possible by the generosity of the late Margot C. Boote and Bill Heath in memory of his parents Ruth and Bill Heath.
  
The merit award applications are available on the WRWA website: http://westportwatershed.org/news-events/2012-merit-scholarship/ or by calling the WRWA office at 508-636-3016.  Guidance departments in local high schools have applications on file. All applications are due in the office no later than April 1, 2016. The Alliance has a proud record of environmental stewardship. The merit awards offer an opportunity to honor students who have demonstrated their interest in protecting the watershed environment.
 
David Cole to Speak about Westport's Master Plan   
 
David Cole will present an Update of the Master Plan for the Town of Westport on Thursday, February 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Westport Library.  He has been co-chair of the Master Plan Update sub-committee along with Elaine Ostroff. This update has recently been completed under the auspices of the Westport Planning Board. This Update identifies many critical problems facing the community such as an underperforming school system, serious water and wastewater issues affecting public health and the health of the estuary, urgent capital project needs for the police station and school buildings and many more.   
 
The new Plan calls for the Town to initiate measures to solve these problems. In many cases they will require increased funding through tax and debt overrides to bring the Town's finances more in line with state-wide averages and those of neighboring towns. The Plan presents evidence that past failures to address these needs are currently impacting property values throughout the Town. Highlights of the Plan will be presented, and some of the most critical concerns will be discussed at this forum.
Registration is open for WRWA's Summer Coastal Ecology Program 
  
The Westport River Watershed Alliance is again offering a fun, hands on summer science program for kids ages 3-16.
 
The Coastal Explorers Program - Ages 7-9. 
Monday- Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
Weeks of July 11-15 & July 25-29. 
Children discover marine life, create eco-crafts, learn about coastal habitats and enjoy games on the beach.  The program fee is $160 for WRWA members and $200 for non-members
 
River Edventures - Ages 9-11.
Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
Weeks of July 18-22 and August 8-12.
This program delves deeper into understanding our environment by learning about food chains and the creatures that make up our watershed ecosystem.  Participants will head out on WRWA's skiff to explore the Westport River. The cost for River Edventures is $180 for members and $220 for
non-members. 
 
Watershed Explorers- Ages 12-16. 
Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,
Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Week of August 1-5. 
In this program, participants learn about the ecology of the Westport River, visit coastal habitats and spend three days paddling on the Westport River.  The kayaking/paddle boarding portion of the program is led by certified instructors from Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures, and includes all equipment and instruction.  The fee is $360 for members and $400 for non-members.
Register online at: www.westportwatershed.org/education/summer-programs/ or call 508-636-3016 for more information.
The Nitrogen Cycle - How It Works
By Roberta Carvalho, Science Director 
 
When you talk about the "circle of life," the circle to which you are referring is a biogeochemical cycle. Biogeochemical- a big word, but it a simple concept; put biology, geology, and chemistry together. The plants and animals that live and then die are the bio part; the earth that they decompose into comprises the geo part; and the process by which organic matter returns to the chemical elements in the earth is explained by the chemical part. There are four biogeochemical cycles, and each of them returns to the earth important elements that are required in living organisms. 
 
1. The Hydrologic (water) Cycle
2. The Carbon Cycle
3. The Phosphorus Cycle
4. The Nitrogen Cycle
  
The nitrogen cycle is the most complex biogeochemical cycle because nitrogen can exist in several different forms. For nitrogen to be used by different life forms on Earth, it must change into different states.  
 
Most of the nitrogen on Earth is in the atmosphere. Approximately 80% of the molecules in Earth's atmosphere are made of two nitrogen atoms bonded together (N2). All plants and animals need nitrogen to make amino acids, proteins and DNA, but the nitrogen in the atmosphere is not in a form that they can use. The molecules of nitrogen in the atmosphere can become usable for living things when they are broken apart during lightning strikes or fires, by certain types of bacteria. Because amino acids build proteins, nitrogen is pretty important. Nitrogen also is present in the nucleic acids DNA and RNA. Life could not go on without nitrogen.

This picture shows the flow of the nitrogen cycle. The most important part of the cycle is bacteria. Bacteria help the nitrogen change between states so it can be used. When nitrogen is absorbed by the soil, different bacteria help it to change states so it can be absorbed by plants. Animals then get their nitrogen from the plants.
Image from the U.S. Geological Survey
Nitrogen fixation: Fixation is the first step in the process of making nitrogen usable by plants. Here bacteria change nitrogen into ammonium. In the soil, as well as in the root nodules of certain plants, nitrogen is "fixed" by bacteria, lightning, and ultraviolet radiation. The "fixing of nitrogen" does not mean nitrogen was broken; a better term might be "fixated," because the bacteria put elemental nitrogen into a form that can be used by living organisms and do not allow it to leave that form and revert to elemental nitrogen.
   
Nitrification: This is the process by which ammonium gets changed into nitrates by bacteria. Nitrates are what the plants can then absorb. Certain bacteria take the forms into which nitrogen was fixated and further process it (oxidization). Oxidation provides energy for the nitrogen cycle to take place-the bacteria that live in soil cannot harness energy from the sun. The energy they use during their work in the nitrogen cycle comes from this process.
Ammonification. This is part of the decaying process. When a plant or animal dies, decomposers like fungi and bacteria turn the nitrogen back into ammonium so it can reenter the nitrogen cycle. Plants absorb nitrates or ammonium ions from the soil and turn them into organic compounds. Animals obtain nitrogen by consuming plants or other animals. Therefore, the waste products of animals contain nitrogen. Ammonium ions, ammonia, urea, and uric acid all contain nitrogen. So regardless of what form of excretion an animal has, some nitrogen is released back into the ecosystem through excrement.  .
 
Denitrification - Extra nitrogen in the soil gets put back out into the air. There are special bacteria that perform this task.  .

Assimilation
- This is how plants get nitrogen. They absorb nitrates from the soil into their roots. Then the nitrogen gets used in amino acids, nucleic acids, and chlorophyll. 

How have humans altered the nitrogen cycle?
Unfortunately, human activity has altered the cycle. We do this by adding excess nitrogen into the soil and groundwater with our onsite wastewater (septic systems) and fertilizers, as well as other (industrial) activities that put more nitrous oxide gas into the atmosphere. This adds in more nitrogen than is needed by normal cycle and upsets the cycle's balance.
Can the denitrifiers keep the nitrogen cycle in balance? No - not if we keep using the same approach. We are currently seeing the evidence first hand. One troubling example: the "blooms" of algae in lakes and rivers as nitrogen leaches from the soils of land with septic systems, fertilizers, and animal feed lots. The over-accumulation of dissolved nutrients in a body of water is called eutrophication.

What can we do next? We know that we have a nutrient problem here in the Westport River. First, virtually all of Westport's wastewater is treated by septic systems. However, current regulations under Title V are deficient and need to require de-nitrifying systems in nitrogen-sensitive areas. The Town of Westport needs to consider comprehensive wastewater planning. It is expensive, detailed and continuous and needs to be done. The WRWA looks forward to working with the Town of Westport, local groups, concerned citizens, and the MADEP to arrive at the best possible solutions for our community, and our water resources.
Living on the Forest Floor - The Tiny Princess Pine
Shannon Choquette, Commonwealth Corps Service Member

It is the time of the year when the days are short, the leaves have fallen from the trees and, aside from evergreens and American Holly, there is not much green plant life outside. But if you look towards the ground, you may find what appear to be small pine trees, still lively and green in clusters on the forest floor. This small plant, lovingly referred to as Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum), is not a pine at all. Actually, it is more similar to ferns than to pines since it produces spores rather than cones or seeds. Spores, like seeds, are produced to create the next generation of plants. However, spores are extremely small and only contain one cell to start the new plant's life; all seeds are very large by comparison and have multiple cells that contain nutrients and energy stored to help the new plant establish. When you stumble upon a cluster, many of the shoots may be connected by an underground stem called a rhizome. Princess pine shoots grow to a maximum of 6 inches, and can take between 3 to 5 years to fully mature and produce spores. It grows in young forests all over Eastern United States.

A mature Princess Pine with spore-producing strobilus.  Photo: amc-nh.org
During the holiday season, princess pine has traditionally been collected to make Christmas wreaths, since the plant will remain green once harvested and dried correctly. Some states, such as Indiana and New York, have protected the plant from overharvesting through state laws. Generally, if you chose to harvest princess pine, there are a few guidelines that will ensure the survival of the rhizome so that new shoots may grow. You should only harvest shoots that have already produced spores (the top of the shoot is brown and dry) and should always use shears to ensure that you do not harm the rhizome or harvest young, immature shoots.
 
Princess pine is not only known for its use during the holidays. The spores of the princess pine are extremely small in size (33 micrometers) and have a very high fat content, which causes them to be flammable when mixed with air. For this reason, their spores have a very explosive history! As early as 1807, Lycopodium powder created from spores was used as a combustion agent in the fuel for the first internal combustion engine, created by inventor Nicophore Niepce (who also invented photography). It is no longer used in fuel, but is often used in laboratory settings that study sound waves, since they have the special quality of making sound waves visible in air because they are so small and light. Today, the most common use of the spores is in fireworks and explosives for theatrical special effects, as it produces a large but short-lived flame.
 
Princess Pine Fast Facts:
Princess Pine is very small and can grow to a max. of 6 inches, yet can live 5 years.
 WRWA and WLCT host winter lectures
 
 

Join WRWA and the Westport Land Conservation Trust for a series of fun and interesting winter talks to be held evenings at the Westport Library.

 

Thursday, January 28 - Losing The Buzz - Learn about the plight of honeybees with Beekeeper Lucy Tabit.  6:30 p.m.

Monday, February 8 - Wings of Westport - Learn about local birds with Mass Audubon Naturalist Lauren Miller Donnelly.  6:30 p.m.

 

Check next month's River News for updates on more events and lectures.  For more information, call Steve at 508-636-3016 or email [email protected].

 

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