Throw a rock into a pond and the single splash creates concentric circles, rippling outward.

Do a good deed and it improves someone’s day, and the positive effect ripples along, metaphorically speaking.

Propose a transmission line project through the heart of a small, semi-rural town, and the ripples just keep coming: a hit on property values, destruction of the character of the town, loss of trees in conservation land, threat to water.

Wait. What? Threat to water? Electricity lines could potentially threaten our water? Eversource’s proposed Sudbury to Hudson transmission line project and its vegetation management plan could. This plan schedules regular herbicide spraying to control plant and tree growth along where they plan to clear cut a swath 82 feet wide on the MBTA rail bed right of way.

How crazy is it that critical infrastructure of one sort (electricity) could potentially threaten critical infrastructure of another (water)? And in case you’re prone to believing Eversource’s assurances that it’s all very carefully managed, consider our friends on Cape Cod. Communities there have been battling NStar and its successor Eversource for years and the fight to protect their water continues today. The herbicides most commonly used are Fosamine and Glyphosate, both problematic in their own ways. Fosamine has not been tested for human health risk assessment because it is not approved for residential use and so residential exposure risk assessment has not been conducted. Glyphosate, which is often detected in groundwater where it is commonly used, has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s cancer assessment agency. Let Eversource say what it will about its “Plan.” Better to err on the side of caution and keep that stuff away from our water.

The Sudbury Water District agrees. It has expressed its concern over how close the herbicide spraying would come to our water sources – approximately 1.7 miles of the right of way is within Zone II of the Sudbury Water District’s gravel pack wells which are the sole source of water for over 18,000 residents in Sudbury. Its 2015 annual report spells out the risk of contamination:

all of our wells are located in aquifers with a high vulnerability to contamination due to the absence of hydrogeologic barriers (clay) that can prevent contamination migration.” 

It doesn’t matter if Eversource’s proposed transmission lines would cut right through your back yard or if you live five miles away on the opposite side of town:

Because Sudbury Water District operates under one large distribution system, it would not be possible to pinpoint an individual’s water supply to one specific well. All water eventually mixes within the water mains.”

Right now in Sudbury, when you turn on the tap, cool, clean water runs freely. Even as Massachusetts faces drought conditions, we drink, cook, wash, bathe, shower, water our lawns (excepting the current watering restriction), and gardens without a second thought. It’s a privilege to be blissfully unconcerned about its quality and safety. Sudbury Water District’s rigorous monitoring and testing has it covered: “To improve the quality of the water delivered to you, we treat it to remove several contaminants: We add disinfectant to protect you against microbial contaminants; we add fluoride to the water to aid in dental health and hygiene; we aerate and filter the water to remove volatile organic contaminants; we filter the water to reduce levels of iron and manganese and we chemically neutralize the water.

Current testing, however, doesn’t include the herbicides on Eversource’s list because it’s not in the budget and not required. The water district does conduct non-mandatory tests for other compounds and contaminants (such as herbicides) periodically, but by the time they would be found, a well could be contaminated, and as the district report points out, “the water delivered to your home does not necessarily originate at a single point but rather is a blend of a number of our wells.” 

Water is a precious resource and it’s up to us all to keep it safe and clean.  The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to help stop Eversource in its tracks. Support Protect Sudbury’s legal fund by donating, let Town officials know you support their continued opposition to the project, and keep up the pressure on our local agencies and public officials by contacting them. Take action now and create your own ripple effect.

Sources: Sudbury 2015 Water Quality ReportPOCCAGreen Cape, Chemical Cocktail