Dear Members of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance,
I would like to clarify some issues concerning the likely effects of
development on the Stratton Brook aquifer if the Ethel Walker
development rights are not purchased by the town.
This aquifer is a particularly shallow one, the water table being
mostly within 30 feet of the surface , and is therefore particularly
susceptible to contamination. The only way to ensure that this
aquifer will continue to provide pure drinking water is to make sure
that the land above it remains undeveloped.
The DEP, in its Bulletin No. 26 (Protecting Connecticut’s Groundwater,
A Guide for Local Officials), shows five categories of risk to
groundwater, ranging from 1 (lowest risk) to 5 (highest risk). Category
1 includes nature preserves and open space (passive recreation only):
this is what we have now. Category 2 includes residential (2-acre
lots); Category 3 includes residential (1/2- to 1-acre lots). According
to the figures presented in the preliminary development plan for the
Walker Woods, which is the only plan that has been made public, the
average lot size in this development would be 1.4 acres, somewhere
between Category 2 and Category 3. The risk for this particular
development, even on a deeper aquifer, would therefore be better
characterized not as “low”, but rather as “moderate”. And this aquifer
is a shallow one, which increases the risk level.
For example, one of the most serious risks is the use of pesticides.
Pesticide use has doubled since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was
published in 1962. The USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program
in 2002 found that low concentrations of pesticides are in streams and
groundwater throughout the nation. At least one pesticide was detected
in more than 95% of stream samples collected at 115 sites. Furthermore,
nearly two thirds of all streams sampled had at least one pesticide at
a concentration exceeding a guideline for the protection of aquatic
life. In studies of major rivers and streams, 96% of all fish contained
one or more pesticides at detectable levels.
Pesticides, along with the so-called “inert ingredients” that
usually make up most of a pesticide formulation, are by no means
harmless. Many of these chemicals can have serious health risks even at
concentrations in the low parts-per-billion or parts-per-trillion
range. The “inert ingredients” may in some cases be more toxic than the
active ingredients. Again, from the DEP Bulletin: “With few
exceptions, little is known about the long-term health effects that may
result from consuming these substances at low levels in drinking water.
Only a few of the more than 50,000 chemicals currently in commercial
production have ever been studied to evaluate their long-term health
effects … In private wells, which are seldom tested, contaminants may
go undetected for a long time… Even minute amounts of [toxic
synthetic organic] chemicals in groundwater can threaten human health.
What’s worse, these chemicals are often persistent in soil and water
and may affect groundwater for many years.”
A lot of these toxins are coming from residential lawns. The U S Fish
and Wildlife Service found that homeowners use up to ten times more
chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.
It has been estimated that 500,000 to 1,200,000 pounds per year of
pesticide active ingredient are applied in residential areas of
Connecticut (1990: DEP Bulletin No. 11).
Most lawn care chemicals have the potential to contaminate groundwater.
The four top-selling lawn care pesticides, 2,4-D, glyphosate,
MCPP, and dicamba (all of which are abundantly available in stores in
Simsbury and Avon), are listed by the State of California as being
potential groundwater contaminants based on their physical and chemical
characteristics such as water solubility and half-lives in soil and
water. Some lawn care chemicals can persist in soil and water for
years. Once water becomes contaminated, studies to determine the source
of the contamination problem are costly, time consuming, and sometimes
inconclusive. Remedial action, if it is even possible, may take ten to
twenty years and is likely to be very costly and disruptive. “The
effectiveness of such [remediation] systems – which require regular
maintenance – varies widely. Some contaminants, like nitrates [from
fertilizers] and salt [from roads], can only be removed by expensive
reverse osmosis units. Removing these contaminants in large amounts of
water is not generally feasible.” (DEP Bulletin No. 26) Full
restoration of groundwater quality is seldom if ever achieved.
According to the same DEP Bulletin, additional “residential higher-risk
activities include: certain home occupations…[such as] lawn care
businesses; photo processors;…printers; furniture strippers and
finishers; reupholsterers; electrical, radio, and television repair;
appliance, lawnmower, and small engine repair; heating and cooling
equipment service; pesticide applicators and exterminators; etc.”
Lest one think that people in million-dollar homes would be unlikely to
be engaged in such businesses, it is important to remember that once
the subdivision permits are granted, there is no guarantee that the
houses built there will be million-dollar ones, regardless of what is
presented in the plans. Changing market conditions could cause the
developers to rethink the plans without having to obtain new permits.
Other groundwater risks from residential activities, again as listed in
the same DEP Bulletin, include: “Fertilizer – use, storage,
disposal; Fuel oil storage; Household hazardous materials – use,
storage, disposal; Pesticides – use, storage, disposal; Septic tank
additives; Septic systems – improper siting, design, installation, use,
maintenance; Stormwater runoff; Waste oil and antifreeze disposal;
Water conditioner – discharges; Water conservation – lack of it.”
According to the DEP, “Natural open space … represents the lowest level
of risk to groundwater. Such open space, especially if managed by or in
cooperation with a water utility, provides one of the most effective
approaches for protecting critical groundwater resources.” (Bulletin
For these reasons alone (although there are many others as well), the
preservation of the Ethel walker Woods in its natural state should be
of the highest priority to Simsbury town officials. I urge you to do
everything possible to support the town’s purchase of the development
rights to this property, starting with sending this issue to referendum.
Dr Susan B. Brachwitz
 “Availability of Water from Stratified-Drift Aquifers in the
Farmington River Valley, Simsbury, CT.”, by R. L. Melvin and J. W.
Bingham, USGS, 1991.