Walking on Water: The Barnes Aquifer at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 4, 2016)

If you walk the east campus woods, you are walking on top of a small portion of the Barnes Aquifer, which stretches under Easthampton, Southampton, Westfield, and Holyoke. It’s one of the most important water sources in western Massachusetts.

About 14,000 years ago, melting water from glaciers carried clay and silt down to the sea, but deposited the heavier sand and gravel right here, as a great underground aquifer, perfect for collecting and purifying water. In 2015, Easthampton won a gold medal for the best tasting water in the U.S.

Surface water soaks down into the aquifer, along with whatever pollutants it is carrying. Roads, homes, and businesses can interfere with healthy regeneration of the aquifer

Water moves out of the aquifer in two ways: the water moves up into the bottoms of streams that flow over it.  In at least two places on our east campus, streams emerge from underground, as in the photo at the top of this page.  To find this disappearing stream, walk down the mid-woods path, then keep going straight across the mid-woods meadow, bearing a little to the left, to an orange flag at the woods’ edge.  The stream is a short way into the woods.  Flags mark the spot.  Be careful not to step into a hole. Trail map at https://lathropland.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/trail-eh.pdf

Also, multiple wells supply 1.2 billion gallons of Barnes Aquifer water per year to 60,000 people.

About 25 years ago, tests showed that some wells drawing from a part of the aquifer exceeded federal standards for contamination by TCE (trichloroethylene), a common degreaser and cleaning agent and a suspected carcinogen.  Experts ran hundreds of tests and tried to identify contamination sources. Easthampton built a treatment plant, and Holyoke closed its contaminated wells. The Barnes Aquifer Protection Committee now works to protect the quality of the aquifer (http://bapac.pvpc.org/html/more-bapac.html). One of its projects is to prevent development on key plots of land that are important to recharging the aquifer.

A proposal to protect one of these key plots will be considered by the Easthampton City Council on Wed., Nov. 16, at 6 p.m.  Please join us, as several members of the Lathrop Land Conservation Committee drive (over the Barnes Aquifer) to the meeting to show our support for the project   Contact me (walvoord@nd.edu or 203-5086) if you’d like a ride. More information at http://kestreltrust.org/PDF/470/CookInfoSheet1Ehamp.pdf

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