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Our Concerns About the Water

Some say that marina operations, the overuse of lawn and farm fertilizers, and failed septic systems killed the fish in Greenwich Bay in the Summer of '03.

That's not exactly true. The reason why the fish died is because the thousands of properly-operating septic systems in the watershed plains, including newly pumped systems, create nitrogen fertilizer. The typical septic system in the Greenwich Bay Watershed generates the equivalent of bags and bags of lawn fertilizer and dumps them into the groundwater. Because the Nausacket, Buttonwoods, Horseneck (Oakland Beach), Greenwoods, Hillsgrove and other coastal plains lie on top of course glacial sands, this nitrogen fertilizer does not break down. Instead, it is carried downhill to the wetlands, the brooks, the creeks, the coves, and the bay.

Another source of nitrogen was the Providence River. At the time of the fish kill, there were unusual winds and currents that pushed more brackish Providence River water through the gap between Warwick Neck and Patience Island and into Greenwich Bay.

This made the situation worse because lurking in the bay are macroalgae. These are plants that use the sun and the nitrogen passed from the septic systems to create large "blooms" of constantly splitting single celled macroalgae. As long as the sun shines, they create more oxygen through photosynthesis. At night and on cloudy days, they feed on the oxygen they self-create and pass off carbon dioxide. The bay truns murkey with algae when the sun beats down for the longest days of June and July. You can't see your feet if you are in over your knees. Buttonwoods cove fills up with green algae. In August the days grow shorter. There are more fogs and cloudy days. Like in a horror movie, the algae keep sucking up oxygen and nitrogen to create more plant material during sunless times. But, they can not regenerate oxygen quickly enough because the days are too short. They drown and rot. The fish and clams die as if they were snuffed out in a giant underwater fire. This fire was fueled by nitrogen generated far up the bay in places such as Providence.

The Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole reports that where sandy plains meet coastal waters, properly functioning septic systems on these plains kill fish and clams. These systems can be thousands of feet or even miles from the bay proper. As long as they are placed on glacial sands, the water under these systems carries the fertilizer quickly to the brooks, creeks, coves, and the bay itself. Woods Hole has created "The CLUE Model". This stands for "Changing Land Use and Estuaries". This model is designed for Buttonwoods Bay Committee joined the Greenwich Bay Special Area Management Plan are concerned about the entire Greenwich Bay watershed, not just the bay itself and the north shore where we live from Baker's Creek easterly to Buttonwoods Cove. All of the moving water in the watershed ends up in the bay. The water carries nourishments and poisions that make or break the bay.

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