Clean Water Made the First Thanksgiving a Feast to Remember

1115141358aIt’s Thanksgiving!  It’s that time of year when we cover our table with a feast of turkey, cranberries, and potatoes and imagine that we are celebrating as the earliest settlers had nearly four hundred years ago. But more likely, the Pilgrim and Wampanoag people enjoyed a plentiful bounty of waterfowl and fish at their feast – game and seafood attracted to the area by the clean, undisturbed waters of 17th-century Massachusetts.

Many historians believe that turkey and potatoes were not actually present at the first Thanksgiving. Turkey did not become the poster-bird for Thanksgiving until the early 1800s.  Back in 1621, the feast, which lasted three days, was comprised of foods that could easily be obtained in the region, and the local waters were an excellent resource for finding these.

According to one article, the birds that were most likely eaten were migratory ducks and geese attracted to the clean rivers, streams, and lakes of the Plymouth area.  Without these clean waters attracting birds to Massachusetts, the first Thanksgiving meal would have been much less impressive than it actually was. Below the surface of the rivers and streams, and the ocean of Massachusetts where this three-day feast took place, the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe found many delicacies to add to their dinner table.  Clams, cod, lobsters, and eels were plentiful in the clean, undisturbed waters, and the early Americans took full advantage of this.

Additionally in an article from Smithsonian Magazine, there are reports that while there may have been beer at the table, there would have only been about a few gallons for 150 people over three days.  The rest of the group probably washed the meal down with water.  Another reason the guests at the first Thanksgiving were probably thankful for the clean waters available to them.

Water has certainly been a very important – if often overlooked- element of any Thanksgiving dinner.  While you’re boiling your potatoes, and getting the lumps out of the gravy, reflect on a feast such as this without water and give thanks by conserving water in your cooking.

May you and yours enjoy a happy and “water-ful” Thanksgiving!

Brownfields Seeing Green – Communities Benefit from Development

Due to high environmental cleanup costs communities lose millions in economic revenue and community revitalization from brownfield sites. Thankfully most states have brownfield redevelopment incentive programs to encourage abandoned sites to be developed.

Brownfield Development Lot
A brownfield site in Massachusetts

A big election-day issue here in Massachusetts was whether voters would maintain the state’s position on developing a gaming industry and, in turn, approve the construction of three large casino facilities in different parts of the state. After a long highly contested debate, voters supported keeping the law as is and the plan for three casinos in Massachusetts will continue.

While casinos have faced tough opposition in many communities around the state, it is arguable that, for one community, the promise to transform a deserted waste-land into prosperous waterfront property, is what swayed many local voters to support this initiative.

Wynn Resorts, the company with plans to turn a polluted former chemical plant in Everett into a new $1.6 billion resort, has a hefty environmental cleanup project ahead before it can even begin to pour the foundation.

Officials have said that the 30-acre site, on the banks of the Mystic River, has housed four different chemical companies dating back to about 1868. Environmental tests have shown that the soil, groundwater and river sediment at the site contain substantial levels of arsenic, lead, copper and other heavy metals.

At a community meeting shortly before the elections, Wynn Resort officials promised the cleanup efforts, which are estimated to take about three to four months and cost roughly $30 million, will meet the “highest standards” set by federal environmental regulators.

Unfortunately, the high cost of environmental cleanup for many communities means these opportunities get ignored thus costing the community significant amounts of money in economic revenue and community revitalization. But thankfully, most communities don’t have to wait for a billion-dollar development project to come to their doorstep. Many states have brownfield redevelopment incentive programs to encourage abandoned sites to be developed.

The Brownfields Act of Massachusetts provides financial incentives to attract new investment in these properties while ensuring that the Commonwealth’s environmental standards are met.

Redevelopment of a brownfield site can be a significant undertaking for a municipality, but it can have an even more significant pay-off in the end. These projects often benefit from pre-planning on the part of the municipality, which may include a brownfield site inventory of the community, a review of existing bylaws or ordinances, and some advance visioning for the area in which a brownfield site is located. It may require a public-private partnership to bring it to fruition, and will benefit from public outreach and involvement. Municipalities can work to foster these relationships with the neighborhoods in which brownfields are located and with potential investors and developers.

For communities interested in starting a Brownfield Redevelopment Project, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a comprehensive tool kit: For those outside of Massachusetts, visit your state website for details on incentive programs available.

Water, Water Everywhere: Understanding our Water Infrastructure

Staying afloat of our nation’s growing water infrastructure problems means understanding the culprits

Understanding our water infrastructure

Water main breaks, “Do not drink” orders, and water leak emergencies are headlines we are  used to seeing as across the nation, Americans learn that the country is losing an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of water each year due to leaking pipes, broken mains, and faulty meters.

The problem is that amongst all the infrastructure systems we have – transportation, telecommunications, air traffic control – water and sewer pipelines are mostly hidden from our daily lives.  We often don’t know there is a problem, until there is one.

And yet, our water system is one of the most important and economically viable infrastructure systems we have in our country. The US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that for every dollar spent on water infrastructure, about $2.62 is generated in the private economy, and for every job added in the water workforce, about 3.68 jobs are added to the national economy.

A recent article from National Public Radio blames much of the problem to aging pipes originally installed close to 100 years ago.   In many cases, however, that isn’t necessarily the case. Some pipes can last hundreds of years in proper soil conditions. In other cases pipes just a couple of decades old can be found in complete disrepair because of the environment around the pipe.

Just think about your town and how it has developed over the last 10,15, or even 20 years.  The town is probably unrecognizable compared to what it looked like 100 years ago when many of the same water lines we use today were installed.  New elements, often corrosive ones, may have been introduced into the soil surrounding the pipelines including landfills, cinders in the pavement, contamination, stray currents, and high groundwater.  These elements represent only a few that will degrade the exterior of the pipe over time, ultimately causing failure.  By understanding why pipes fail and documenting corrosive areas, communities can focus their limited dollars on replacing pipes with a high risk of failure.

It has been estimated that over the next 20 years, upgrading municipal water and wastewater systems is expected to cost between $3 and $5 trillion. Building and replacing water and sewage lines alone will cost some $660 billion to $1.1 trillion over the same time period. This is money utilities will need and that states do not have to give.  With water rates already on the rise, more has to be done to cost efficiently upgrade our infrastructure.

While the country is now faced with the inevitable burden of paying for upgrades, many in the industry argue that there is an efficient way to modernize our water infrastructure without breaking the bank. A suite of cost-effective approaches to reducing water loss and providing smart, responsible water service to customers are now being employed in municipalities across the country. Best practices include state-of-the-art auditing methods, leak detection monitoring, targeted repairs or upgrades, pressure management, and better metering technologies. By adopting such practices, water service providers can save themselves and their communities money in the long run, while protecting water resources and generating economic growth.