Panel rejects herbicide for Morses Pond

Panel rejects herbicide for Morses Pond
Boston Globe
By Lisa Keen, Globe Correspondent
June 26, 2005

Will Wellesley’s next generation know it as Morses Pond or Morses Marsh?

That’s the multimillion-dollar question the town faces now that it has removed the cheapest solution — herbicide — from its arsenal of weapons to battle the weeds that have invaded the 103-acre pond.

Wellesley has been struggling for 40 years to figure out a way to prevent weeds, algae, and sediment from destroying the pond, which was created with small dams only a century ago.

”When all the hot air has been dissipated, we still have only two options: fluridone and dredging,” said resident Arnold Reif at a public hearing June 16.

Following that hearing, which drew a large number of residents opposed to the use of herbicides in the town’s primary source of drinking water, the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission voted 4 to 1 against relaxing its policy to allow the consideration of fluridone.

The cost of completely dredging the lake has been estimated at more than $5 million. That’s an expense that may not sit well with voters, who last month rejected a tax hike to spend $470,000 to teach Spanish to elementary school students and $66,000 to maintain two branch libraries.

”Before we spend millions of dollars, I think we need to ask whether this is the best way to spend that money in terms of cost-benefit analysis,” Sean Milano said at the June 16 hearing. ”It’s a lot of money to benefit a small minority of people.”

Neighbors and residents who go to Morses Pond for recreation are distraught over how quickly weeds are taking over the lake, making it impossible for sailing, difficult for paddling, and unpleasant if not dangerous for swimming.]

”Someone has to speak up for the pond,” said Christina Medici, who added that she and like-minded neighbors feel they are not only advocates for themselves but also custodians of the pond.

”We see blue herons that come there, the three families of muskrats, the buildup of mussel shells, the swans, and so much,” said Medici. She said ”an affluent community” should spend the money ”to take care of something so wonderful.”

Fluridone would have cost only about $400,000 over the course of 20 years. But speakers at the June 16 hearing overwhelmingly opposed taking a chance on the herbicide, even though it has been approved for use in drinking water sources at concentrations much higher than Wellesley was likely to need.

Reif, a former president of the Boston Cancer Research Association, led the charge against the chemical.

While acknowledging ”there’s no evidence that I know of that fluridone causes cancer,” he noted that federal agencies ”continually update their limits on all substances.” He said there was only about 10 years’ worth of data on fluridone.

Fluridone and two other herbicides are used, with state approval, to treat the 35-acre Nonesuch Pond in Weston. The swimming and boating pond was restored from being a ”meadow,” says Jean Estes, a member of the Nonesuch Pond Improvement Association, which has been active in cleanup efforts. The chemical treatments are paid for by the private Rivers School, which uses the pond for its summer camp.

If no action is taken, Ken Wagner, Wellesley’s environmental consultant, the north basin of Morses Pond could become wetlands within 20 years.

That would not pose a threat to the town’s water supply, according to Joe Duggan, superintendent for Wellesley Water and Sewer. Duggan said the town doesn’t get its water directly from the pond, but from wells drilled underneath it. Morses Pond could become a meadow and still provide drinking water, he said, pointing to the example of Rosemary Meadow, another source of town water.

If the pond does become wetlands — which vary from swamps and marshes to bogs and fens — federal and state regulations would make it more difficult to reclaim areas for swimming and boating.

When the Morses Pond Ad Hoc Committee meets tomorrow, it will give Wagner his marching orders for developing recommendations for the pond. Wagner is expected to report back in August, after which another round of public hearings will be held. A final proposal for the pond could go before Town Meeting next spring.

For the budget year that ends Thursday, the Recreation Department will have spent $42,000 for biological treatment and monitoring of the pond. The town’s Department of Public Works has been spending $20,000 to $25,000 a year to harvest the weeds and do other cleanup work around the swimming beach, says its director, Michael Pakstis. But the town’s harvesting equipment has outlived its usefulness.

Even if the town bought a new machine at an estimated cost of $250,000 and assigned two employees to operate it full time, the weeds could still end up winning the war, Wagner said.

In the long run, the consultant said, the town’s best chance of saving the pond will involve a combination of techniques along with a campaign to persuade residents to curtail use of fertilizers and other materials that contain phosphorus.

Through runoff, the treatments used to beautify lawns wind up promoting ugly growth in the pond, he said.

The Morses Pond Ad Hoc Committee will meet at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow in the Department of Public Works Administrative Building at 455 Worcester St.