Residents wary as pond level stays high
Residents around Lakeville’s Assawompset Pond Complex and town officials are working to find a way to stop its rising water levels before winter comes, so the flooding that wreaked havoc on hundreds of homes in March 2010 is not repeated next spring when snow melts.
The pond’s level has risen to within a foot of the flood line of 55 feet above sea level established for Assawompset by the Federal Emergency Management Agency following last year’s floods.
According to Lakeville officials, all the boards in the dam that regulate outflow in the pond have been removed to allow more water to spill out, yet the level remains high.
Middleborough recently agreed to help by lowering a dam at the Wareham Street herring run, four miles downstream of the Assawompset complex. Officials are cautiously monitoring the process, however, to make sure the ecological balance of the Nemasket River, which flows between the Assawompset and the Wareham Street dam, isn’t damaged by that action.
The Assawompset Pond Complex is about four square miles in size, the largest natural lake in Massachusetts. The complex lies predominantly in Lakeville, but parts extend into nearby towns. The pond serves as the water supply for New Bedford and Taunton.
Record-breaking rains swelled water levels to 57 feet above sea level in March 2010, forcing whole neighborhoods to evacuate. Several homes were destroyed, and many have not been rebuilt.
Shore resident Dana Deree, who led an effort to persuade Middleborough officials to lower the Wareham Street dam, said his home was damaged last year, including its heating, septic, and well systems. The repairs took a big chunk from his savings.
“Our street was shut down, and we had to go to a hotel,’’ Deree said. “Later, we rented an apartment while we rebuilt. It took about 2 1/2 months for the water to recede.’’
Conditions are worse now than they were in 2010, Deree said. His house had been about 20 feet from the shore before the rains. “About six feet of shoreline were washed away in the flood,’’ he said, and water is already coming dangerously close to his house. “I have a deck that faces the water, and right now the water is 3 feet under it.’’
State Representative Keiko Orrall, a Lakeville Republican elected last month to fill the vacancy left following Stephen Canessa’s resignation, has been inundated with calls from concerned residents. She has scheduled a meeting Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. in the Lakeville Public Library to listen to residents and provide updates on measures being taken. Public works directors from affected communities will give their assessments of the situation.
“DPWs in Taunton, New Bedford, Freetown, Lakeville, and Middleborough are all working together,’’ Orrall said.
Middleborough selectmen chairman Alfred Rullo said he remains uncertain that adjusting the Wareham Street dam would help lower lake levels. Andrew Bagas, the town’s public works director, who was opposed to lowering the dam, told selectmen he had already removed several boards in October, as he does so whenever Taunton or New Bedford requests it.
“Yet the pond complex continues to rise,’’ Rullo said.
Bagas told selectmen part of the river above the Wareham Street dam is choked with weeds and silt, slowing water flow.
“Andy’s major concern about lowering the dam is that all we’re doing is lowering the water level directly above the dam, and destroy the river,’’ Rullo said. “If we see lowering the dam doesn’t help, we’ll have to take another look.’’
Orrall agrees that weed-choked sections of the Nemasket, just downstream of the pond, may be slowing the flow. She has contacted Plymouth County Mosquito Control officials to see whether they can free up the blockages in the river, since the agency is allowed to work in wetlands without being delayed by a lengthy permitting process.
“We don’t have the money in hand to dredge the river, but we’ll do what we can,’’ Orrall said.
A committee comprising representatives from Middleborough, New Bedford, Taunton, Lakeville, Rochester, and Freetown that formed shortly after the 2010 floods had drawn up a list of pond water elevations it believed would prevent future flooding. Those levels were set at 53 and 54 feet, depending on the season. Orrall said the panel now believes those levels should be made lower.
Orrall said she and her husband, a civil engineer, have taken water-level measurements at the complex. “We were out last weekend, and the level at the Vaughan Street Bridge was lower than it was several weeks ago, but the water level has remained high in other places,’’ she said. “Hopefully, this means the level is going down and it’s just taking some time.’’
Peter Nyberg reported Monday that water levels had receded on his pond-front property by about 5 inches, so he believes measures are helping. Nyberg was critical of the high water levels maintained in the pond during the summer, saying New Bedford and Taunton seem to be stockpiling water.
“When they do that, the river beds dry up downstream and become filled with weeds,’’ he said. “I’d like to see them get a surcharge for the water, and the money could be used to clean the river up.’’
Christine Legere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.