By Barbara Walvoord
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, February 17-23, 2018
“Water, water, everywhere,” part of a line from Coleridge’s 18th-century “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” is undoubtedly quoted (perhaps unwittingly) by our architects and planners at Lathrop’s east campus these days, as they plan new buildings that must avoid our land’s extensive web of streams and wetlands.
But our water is much more than an irritating limit on our building plans. Like Coleridge’s mariner, we face a much more complicated paradox. He and his fellow sailors, becalmed at sea and out of drinking water, have “water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” The mariner has killed an albatross, and the poem explores the disastrous outcome of this violation of nature and of life. To be redeemed, the mariner must come to a deeper, more reverent view of his world, its water, and its creatures.Like the mariner, we at Lathrop need a nuanced and reverent view of our water and our world.
Our Lathrop water protects us. Scientists predict that, with climate change, New England will actually have more precipitation, but it will come in fiercer storms; will be interspersed with droughts; and will come as rain in winter, thus reducing the snowpack that nourishes the soil in spring and summer. Our Lathrop wetlands can buffer flooding, retain water on the land instead of sending it through storm drains into the river and the ocean, and provide drinking water for our creatures during droughts.
Our Lathrop water is vulnerable. Our east campus lies above the Barnes Aquifer, a critical resource for our area, and the source of drinking water for Easthampton and several surrounding communities. Yet deadly chemicals have flowed into part of the aquifer, requiring the closing of some wells (not in Easthampton). http://www.gazettenet.com/Barnes-Aquifer-Protection-Committee-discusses-private-well-testing-in-Westfield-due-recent-findings-of-contamination-7966841
“Everything we do on the land gets written in the water” observes Oregon sheep farmer Mary Wahl (Helping You Help Your Land, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2008). At Lathrop, it’s not enough to avoid building on our wetlands. We must also protect our water by avoiding chemicals, following environmental best practices for our construction , and filling our land with native plants that act as a sponge and a purifier, while supporting our butterflies, bees, bobcats, hawks, owls, and–if we had any–our albatrosses.