Fire Water!

Have you noticed that ALL the ponds on the Island are slowly being infiltrated by swamp willows and Phragmities?(sp). Over the past 35 years, since I got out of the Navy and returned too the Island, and traveled ALL the roads every day in the pursuit of making a living, I have watched as virtually every single pond has lost a lot of their open water! Just take a ride around the Island and you'll see what I mean.

SO what you may ask. And my answer is, as we have only a limited amount of fire hydrants, and they are all located in the downtown area, what are the people in the outlying places going to use for a firefighting supply when their house catches on fire? That 5000gal tank truck is going to run out pretty fast in a fast burning house. And how far will he have to go to find a pond that can be accessed by the truck to get a refill? Almost all of them are surrounded by a ring of bushes, poison ivy, briar's, and vines, that make it virtually impossible to get to, especially with a fire truck!

The ever-so-vigilant, and in their own minds, knowledgeable biologists, sitting behind their desks in Providence, have MANDATED that there must be a minimum 50 foot buffer around each and every pond on the Island. Why? Why to contain all that runoff from rain running downhill and into the pond carrying all that dastardly dirt and deiterus (sp) and contaminating the water! Jeez, all the time I lived here as a kid and for the past two or three hundred years before that when all the land was cleared and farmed right down to the waters edge, there was no contamination of the water! Oh yeah, I forgot, there were not so many people putting artificial fertilizer on their fields and lawns. Duh--- Just how many are doing that right now at a level that would contaminate a pond I wonder?

Rob Lewis and myself used to have a wonderful little pond that abutted both our properties, and was home to all sorts of wild life. There used to be two different kinds of frogs in it as well as turtles, musk rats, ducks, small fish, and innumerable birds around it. In the 70's we saw what was happening to it and made application to the infamous DEM to clear out all the swamp willows that were overtaking it and driving it into oblivion. Well those people in their infinite wisdom denied the application because they said we would be "hindering" the natural transformation of the area from free running stream and pond, to an open and viable grassland environment! Well it has been well and truly "hindered" as of now. It is nothing more than a sluggish pitiful stream of water, running through an impenetrable forest of phragmities, swamp willows and briar's that is home to nothing more than millions of mosquito's with no natural predators to restrict their "unhindered" growth! This, the treatment of a man who was more concerned with the environment, and who has done more to preserve it, than three quarters of those folks just protecting their unneeded jobs.

So where does this leave us? I think that it is time for the Town Council and the Fire Department to get together and demand that these bureaucrats step out of the way and let us open up access to these ponds and keep them clear of the invasive growth that is slowly killing all of them and depriving the Island home owners of a ready supply of fire fighting water! Just look around you and try and determine just where the BIFD would lay their hoses in order to fight a fire in your home! Good luck to most of you the way it stands now! So if you are a home owner and you are in a place that needs a pond opened up, or cleaned out, write a letter to the TC demanding that they do something to give a modicum of protection to YOUR two or three million dollar home!!TIFN


skywriter said...

I just saw your comment. Thank you for leaving that. 70 is young.

My Dad and StepMom got married in their 60's and went cross country skiing on their honeymoon.

On the day my Dad had his stroke, he'd played 18 holes of golf and mowed and edged the lawn. It was pretty hard getting him to slow down. Now he only plays 9 holes. We worry that the next one may be the last, but he's happy doing what he loves, and being active, and that's the best way to live out your days. None of us know how many we have.

My Dad was career Air Force. He surrounded us with toy airplanes, and control line planes, and model planes. All three of my brothers retired from the Navy. I became the pilot. Go figure.

Sam said...

Hey Everett,

just read the CRMC regulations for freshwater wetlands such as what you're talking about. Wow, they get to regulate anything within 50 feet of a swamp, bog, stream, lake, river, or whatever they want. I've never heard of a state agency having such unilateral power!

Section 6 of the rules does allow for exemptions and maintenance such as to clean out wood and invasive plants, although I think you're going to have a hard time there because you have to file plans, do mitigation, and get inspected - probably have to pay money too.

That's why I think you need the CRMC to have special rules for the Block Island Freshwater Ponds, since they are different from the classic wetland found upstate. These rules would allow for maintenance, water supply, overflows, fire prevention, cleaning, control of invasive plants (Phragmites or however spelled are really from Australia), and other features that you the locals find necessary.

That would take some time so in the meanwhile I'd see if something can be done on a temporary, emergency basis - if you think it's an emergency.

To me, as an occasional visitor since 1970, part of this problem is directly because of the policies to allow Block Island to become a dense shrub ecosystem. Last I walked some new trails the poison ivy and brambles were over 8 feet tall! A wildfire during a drought would not be a good thing at all.

Good Listener said...

On the other hand, a fire would get rid of all the invasive flora - the old timers used to burn all the time (occasionally more than they anticipated) but things got cleared out and maintenance was easier (and the view of the clear spaces was spectacular).

Sam said...

Excellent point - I remember some of Martha Ball's stories that most fields were mowed ... and I do remember Block Island of the late 1960's. As early as 1976 I could see that what used to be fields were overgrown with worthless vegetation and the deer were becoming a problem. Interestingly, it seemed (maybe I am wrong) that there were less blackberries, of which I am quite partial to.

hate phragmites! said...

Phragmites can make a pond disappear. They are of no use to most wildlife and, I believe, not native to this country. I know that DEM has supported salt water cove phragmite extermination on the mainland when the growth has choked off the natural supply of salt water thus enabling the unchecked spread of this useless detrimental weed. They have dug it out with mechanical "do-hinghys" and sprayed with a commercial weed killer when the phragmites began to spread again. The public was assured that wildlife would not suffer any threat from the weed killer treatment. Of trhis fact I am unsure;however, left unchecked we will see many other ponds affected by this weed.

Sam said...

I did some more research and those "swamp reeds" have been around New England for maybe 2,000 years. Not a new thing, maybe.

Anyway, I'd suggest getting rid of the pests as much as possible. Unlike the mysterious "disappearing swamps" of Long Island you have too much of them around your ponds.

One way to kill them is to drain the pond or lake in the deep of winter, like February, so the cold can kill the roots and rhyzomes.

semi informed suggester said...

In my experience I have noted that some uninformed would- be aesthetically inclined folks pick the seed heads and display them in "vahses" inside or use them for outdoor decorations!!!!!!!! Who needs the wind or underground root systems to spread this scourge when we have< artsy fartsies> more than eager to assist. WORK WITH US PEOPLE!!!! Try to get informed and please do not argue with me about your splendid grass displays until you google PHRAGMITES.

Sam said...

Well you have a couple of hundred pounds of invasive reed seed going to hit the ground anyway, nothing you can do. I don't even think burning the stuff down (Everett is good at that!) would do anything. Might just fertilize it better for the spring.

During a drought like you're having you need to pull it, till it, pick the roots, expose it to freeze and fire, and then apply chemical to suppress it.

Heck it beats getting rid of that huge, bountiful crop of poison ivy you have, anyway.

Here's an idea, I can get a load of illegal Mexicans up there to do the job getting rid of the reeds but you have to promise not to bust them! :)

Everett said...

Weel one thing for sure is that burning them only makes them come back a lot thicker than before.
I went digging a little bit and found out that the US Fish and Wildlife outfit uses something called glyco-phosphate with a a surfactant LN1000 to stick it to the plants. They used this stuff in a park somewhere around Boston with no apparent harm to other stuff in the vicinity. I put this out there for all too read in case you feel the need to make some of these pesty plants disappear!

Sam said...

Right, glyphosate was marketed by Monsanto as Round-Up (tm) but others sell it now because the patent ran out.

Only problem is, it kills all plants you spray it on. Everything.

Many people including myself don't like it for that reason. Australia has banned the use of glyphosate in water bodies because it appears to be harmful to frogs.

But there's no replacement for glyphosate. Best times to spray it are during growth periods, since that's how it works - as a growth disruptor. Therefore, it is a bad idea to spray after the first frost and during the dormant winter months. New stalks should be 6-12 inches tall when sprayed, the most effective method. Fall spraying can be done but is not as effective in cold areas such as BI.

The surfactant Everett mentioned is similar to soap (water in oil emulsion). It simply helps the glyphosate stick to the leaves and stalks. I would be sure to get a more professional opinion and ask about any possible impacts on the water quality in Great Salt Pond.


Everett said...

How come you know all this stuff? I must have had a sheltered childhood? Oh yeah, I did! Well anyway, killing frogs and screwing up the GSP, or too me, 'The New Harbor' isn't my intention. We've already done a good job of both. I have used the 50% concentration of roundup to kill poison ivy and those GD Chinese knotweed things that look line bamboo plants. I only spray it early in the AM when their is no wind and from right up close to the plant. Damn, thought we finally had a good thing to kill those 'friggin phragmities'!

Sam said...

Well it's about the only thing that works, Everett. You can rip it out using tractors and by hand, and save some BIG $ by using less herbicide ...

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