Gone fishing …


There’s a lovely section of river that’s part of an intricate network of waterways that collectively form the Blackstone Valley watershed.

This particular beauty spot is down the road from our house. Literally. It’s on our road, a few miles south, on the right. There’s small parking lot, a picnic table, a tiny boat launch ramp, and a lot of posters nailed to trees that explain the many ecological problems and issues affecting the area. The signs explain what you should not do because these are things that will exacerbate existing problems.

I think I am the only person who has ever read the signs.

It turns out people dump all kinds of things in the water like koi, goldfish and turtles. They empty the plants from their aquariums.  Some of these plants refuse to die. They take root, grow, spread, breed. These non-native species become nuisances and worse. They crowd out native species or poison rocks, roots, and water critical to the environment.

We met a bunch of people fishing in that creek and I asked if they actually ate the fish they catch.

“Oh, it’s just trout,” they explained. “We’ve been eating it for years. The river’s not polluted anymore …” and they paused and looked at me. “Is it?”

I sighed. I did. Loudly. Because the water is polluted and will continue to be polluted because the city of Worcester continues to discharge wastewater from a sewage treatment plant into the Blackstone River at Millbury and that pollution, those toxic wastes, flow down the entire river right into Narragansett Bay where they disrupt the delicate ecology where many species of fish and birds breed.

To fix the problem and eliminate the discharge from the sewage plant, the powers-that-be in Worcester would have to raise taxes and they don’t want to do that. How much would they have to raise taxes, you ask? About $100 per home per year, or less than two dollars per week for each affected household. Approximately the cost of a cup of coffee and a donut.  Well, maybe just the coffee, no donut.

I explained the river was much less polluted than it had been in 1971 when the Blackstone River was declared one of America’s most polluted rivers. But it is far from clean and it might not be a good idea to eat the fish.

“I’ve been eating it for years,” one guy said, as he untangled his line. “So far, so good.”

He was perhaps 30 years old. “It isn’t one fish dinner or twenty fish dinners. It’s cumulative over your lifetime. Toxins accumulate.” I left it at that.

I do what I can. I try to get the word out. People will listen or ignore me. They will hear what they want to hear. Carping just annoys them. No one likes to be harangued or nagged. Hopefully I left food for thought. Maybe they’ll get angry that one town will imperil the well-being of every town in the valley because they are too spineless to do the right thing. Worcester is near the source of the Blackstone. Millbury is just south of Worcester, so the toxic waste they dump into the river affects everyone south of their sewage plant:  almost everyone in the valley.

Most folks living in the valley don’t have “city water.” We have wells. All of our wells pump water from the same aquifer. The aquifer is part of the Blackstone Valley watershed which the city of Worcester is blithely polluting as if the rest of us don’t matter. Worcester has spent more money fighting the EPA in court than it would have cost to fix the problem without raising taxes at all, but they are determined to fight for the right to pollute. I find it difficult to understand how they justify this. It does not compute. It’s my water too. I don’t want to drink their sewage.

We have so many problems in this world that cannot be solved. This is a problem that has a well-known solution that would not, even in this bad economy, cause significant hardship. It boggles my mind.