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Seeking input on watershed issues

By Jesse Gordon / Guest Column
Thursday, January 22, 2004

Do you have concerns about a nearby river or lake? Or any environmental issue involving water? Now is your chance to get those issue on the record, to get something done about it over the next few years.

The Massachusetts state government rewrites each Watershed Action Plan every five years. Over the next few months, the Beverly area will be targeted for such an examination and public comment is needed. The Watershed Action Plan serves as the official list of issues and priorities in the watershed. Watershed groups cite the Action Plan when they apply for grant funding for projects, so inclusion of projects and issues in the Action Plan is the means to get funding for them.

Beverly and its surrounding towns are part of the "North Coastal Watershed." Most watersheds relate to one river - a "watershed" means all of the land area that drains into one river. We're an odd watershed because we have several small rivers that all drain into Salem Sound or into the ocean directly. The North Coastal Watersheds extend from Revere Beach and the Saugus River, through the Salem Sound, and up to Gloucester.

Salem Sound Coastwatch, a non-profit environmental agency on the North Shore, will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, January 27, 7-8:30 p.m., at the Barnett Room, Beverly Public Library, 32 Essex Street, Beverly. The latest draft of the Action Plan will be presented. Comments from the meeting will be recorded in the Action Plan. Comments may also be submitted on-line at www.NorthCoastal.net (click on "Comments" then pick a category). The Web site also contains the Action Plan draft if you would like to read it before the meeting.

The current Action Plan draft focuses on five overarching issues in the North Coastal area. While these issues may change, the current draft is organized around these topics, with particular issues and projects within each one.

Issues include: contaminated storm water from street drainage; sustainable growth management; conservation of open space; habitat preservation; drinking water base flows.

Some specific issues and projects in the Action Plan have been detailed at previous meetings. They include: Town Line Brook (site restoration in Revere and Malden); Rumney Marsh (dredging in Saugus and Revere); Gloucester Wastewater (sewer connections in Essex and Gloucester); Lake Quannapowitt (watershed awareness in Wakefield); Chebacco Lake (recreational usage in Hamilton).

We're seeking "stakeholders" on issues like those to get their issues into the Action Plan. "Stakeholders" means anyone who represents a watershed group, or a community group that has an interest in water or environmental issues, or just a citizen who sees a problem and wants to see it fixed.

The current Watershed Action Plan will be completed by June of this year. It is intended to serve as the planning document for the next five years. But this may be the last local Action Plan ever - because the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative, under which the document is published, has been abolished. Future Action Plans will likely be published under the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which means less of a local focus.

Salem Sound Coastwatch works with government agencies, businesses, other organizations and citizens from the Salem Sound region, to take cooperative action to protect and enhance the environmental quality of the Salem Sound and its surrounding watershed.

While we expect comments at the current meeting to focus on issues related to the Salem Sound, residents are welcome to comment on any issues in the entire watershed. Future meetings will be hosted by the Saugus River Watershed Council (Revere/Saugus area) and Eight Towns and the Bay (Ipswich/Gloucester area).

Jesse Gordon works for Perot Systems Government Services, the contractor writing the Watershed Action Plan for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He can be contacted at jesse@NorthCoastal.net or 781-544-0241.