In the midst of a seemingly endless battle against midge infestations, Straits Pond Watershed Association President Tom Bell has announced that money has been set aside in the fiscal 2022 budget for the payment of a sediment survey in the area behind the Greek Orthodox Church.
If approved as an ecological restoration project by the agencies involved in the overview of the pond, known as an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC), the next step would to be to issue a request for proposals for the work, which would involve deepening the channel in that area to provide better drainage.
“Normally, dredging in an ACEC is not allowed, but there may be an exception if we can prove this kind of work falls under the ecological restoration category,” Bell told The Hull Times. “Increasing the tidal flow would make for healthier water quality and would help the fish, crabs, and other wildlife living in the pond, except the midges and algae!”
Bell, a geologist, is pleased that town officials are listening to concerns expressed by SPWA members and homeowners around the pond about the midges. (See related story.) He explained that many attempts to rid the area around the pond of midges in past years have not led to any long-term solutions, including applying what he called “highly toxic” sodium arsenate from the 1950s, which he said killed clams and fish living in the pond in the process. “It wasn’t clear if it killed the midges, although it’s possible it did,” he said. Other applications of pesticides in attempts to alleviate the problem proved to be largely ineffective, according to Bell.
About 11 years ago, the West Corner tide gate was greatly expanded in size; when in use, it increased the tidal circulation to make the pond saltier. “At the time, it was thought that the more salt there is, the less ability midges have to hatch and reproduce,” Bell said.
This measure seemed to resolve the midge problem until 2018, when parts of the automated system of the flood control device failed. “Until then, the midges went away for eight years but returned in 2019 and 2020. It is not clear if the automation failure of the tide gate is related to the return of the midges,” Bell explained.
In addition to a tide gate repair, the SPWA is listening to advice offered by Coastal Zone Management staff and other environmental agencies “who believe increasing the amount of water that passes in and out of the pond at high and low tide every day will greatly enhance water quality,” Bell said, adding that the only way to do that is to deepen the channel behind the church.
There is no easy solution, he emphasized. “This kind of intervention will take some time because we have to make a case to the state for getting the work accomplished under the ecological restoration category in order to remove about 100 cubic yards of sediment to increase the tidal exchange,” he said. If the necessary approvals are given, other grants may be available to pay for the actual work beyond the survey. The time frame is uncertain should approval be granted.
In the meantime, Bell said, “There’s not going to be any relief. Let’s hope it’s a bad year for the midges.”
He urges residents troubled by midges to turn off unnecessary indoor and outdoor lighting, which attracts midges, and to keep windows closed, even those with screens. “Midges can go right through them,” he said.
Bell is currently developing a plan, to be posted on the SPWA website, for how homeowners can share information about midges from their unique perspectives. “We’ll be asking them to pick out a window in their house affected by midges and take a photo with a time stamp,” Bell said. The residents will be asked to send their photos, with their address, to the SPWA website.
“This will help us plot the distribution of adult midges around the pond and to try to understand what might be affecting their population and distribution,” Bell said. “We’ll gather the information and create a map of all the affected areas.”
Look for instructions on how to participate at www.straitspond.org.