"Sole Source", a film about Newtown’s water and aquifer, will be shown at the Booth Library on Friday night. The name of the film refers to Newtown’s unique aquifer system that is able to produce drinking water for the entire town.
James Belden, president and co-founder of the Pootatuck Watershed Association and resident of Newtown for more than ten years, said back in the days of heavy manufacturing, “People treated watersheds like sewers.”
Today, up to 1.5 million gallons of water are pumped for Newtown’s drinking water. “The water is high quality,” Belden said. “The Pootatuck and Deep Brook are one of less than a dozen CT DEEP Class 1 Trout Management Areas. Due to the high quality habitat, the stream are managed for sustaining wild populations.”
Belden said that Newtown’s aquifer, the source for the rivers as well as Newtown's drinking water, is an EPA designated Sole Source Aquifer. That designation is special, he said, and is the only one that is exclusively in CT. “It simply means that the aquifer supplies most of the area's water needs and is the only immediately viable source. Therefore, protection is critical to public safety, the economy and the environment,” he said.
Belden explained the process by which the water reaches the aquifer. “Watersheds aren’t just water. It is land that makes the water; it filters the water, the soils, the sand and gravel. The land creates our aquifers, the land is processing and cleaning our water.”
“When we have a month with no rain, the wetlands still store and slowly release water, but if we develop too much, and the wetlands disappear, the water won’t be absorbed,” Belden said. “Without forested lands and wetlands, the water leaves the system through surface runoff rather than recharging the aquifer or maintaining stream flows.”
“Even turf and grass has runoff like cement,” he said. “Having forested and meadowed areas traps more water and allows it to infiltrate and release it.”
Belden said that Newtown has done well by investing nearly $10 million in open space protection. However, he also said that in Connecticut alone, nearly 18 acres a day is lost to development.
He cited the Dauti development, seen coming down Church Hill Rd., as a disappointing example of development. “The town lost through court appeal. Now, the intense development on the steep slopes near the river, among other things, will direct more storm water into the river. Almost all of our rivers have some impairment because of human contact,” he said.
Describing the impact of runoff, Belden said, “An aquifer is layers of sand and gravel left behind by glaciers that ground contours into the bedrock, processes the water, cleaning, transporting and storing the rainwater, with the excess discharging to become streams. The sand and gravel in the stream act similar to a sponge. If the sponge isn’t clean, if we deforest, contaminate the ground, the water will not be as clean and more of it runs off before it gets a chance to replenish the aquifer. When you use a dirty sponge what color is the water when you wring it out?”
Belden’s background is in urban planning, earth management and waste recycling, and he is a fisherman. Professionally, he is the Executive Director of the Pomperaug Watershed Coalition, and his volunteer efforts with the Pootatuck are modeled after the work that has been done with the Pomperaug, which Belden said is one of the most studied watersheds in the country.
“We are responsible for the water in our town, so essentially we are masters of our own fate. It is hard for people to understand. A protected land trust can be easily understood because you can touch it, you can see it. With watershed protection, you can’t feel or touch it. The concepts are complex, and that is part of why we did this film.”
Dan Holmes is volunteer with the Pootatuck Water Association and through the time he has spent with the association, he developed the concept of the film. He said, “I was doing a stream walk the other day and was blown away to at being able to identify where all of the conduit pipes coming into the river are coming from.”
His goal that day was to identify where the problems with pollution and erosion might be taking place. “Pretty much all of the roads and roofs, concrete and soil runoff finds it’s way into the stream.”
Holmes said that after walking the streams, he was struck by the areas of beauty invisible to most residents, but said, “Then downstream, it’s all downgraded. Ultimately, all of these streams interrelate to our own aquifer."
The film will be shown at the Booth Library at 7 p.m. on Friday night. There will be refreshments and water bottles will be given away.