Residents around Norton's lakes have reacted with rare enthusiasm to the creation of a new committee whose aim will be combating threats to the wildlife living on or near the water. Many of those threats involve the invasion of so-called "noxious weeds" that choke off shallow waters and suffocate other forms of life, creating largely dead areas and making boat access all but impossible in warm weather.
Thursday, selectmen heard from several who have applied to be members of the newly created Water Bodies Committee, and in light of the enthusiasm displayed, decided to wait until all applicants had been heard before capping the number of members who will take part.
Brian Brady, representing the Winnecunnet Pond Association, said combating the weed growth in the 148-acre natural pond off Bay Road has been a pitched battle for many years, and said awareness of the problem has been increasing.
The pond is invaded by milfoil and fanwort weed, and both have been resistant to the mechanical weed harvester used by the town to uproot the weeds and discourage reproduction.
Selectman Bob Kimball, who has helped spearhead the effort to get a targeted committee created, noted, "We are talking about all the bodies of water - we want to improve all of them at the same time. I've been watching the Reservoir get filled up with weeds - the Mansfield side is practically full."
Herb Ellison, also applying for a seat on the committee, said as a Wheaton College professor and a resident on the shores of the Norton Reservoir, he has guided a number of students in projects that researched the nutrient load in the waters of the 580-acre man made lake, and said weed growth over the years has increased to the point where boating in some areas is a real problem.
Ellison recalled the many years of research that went into the proposal to dredge areas of the Reservoir, and said the cost of marketing the dredged material made the project financially infeasible.
The conservation commission declared the project on hold in 2007, after a market could not be found to sell the dredged silt/sand combination, and the price tag to separate gravel from silt was determined to be between $23 and $30 million, or about $8.10 a yard.
Ellison pointed out the last successful method of killing weeds, dumping copper sulfate in the water, also kills fish.
"Only by dredging can we combat the weeds for the long term," Ellison said.
Those living around the Reservoir have seen an increase in wildlife, including blue herons, swans, and the recent arrival of otters. Lee Parham, a long time resident of the shoreline and past employee of the Foxborough water department, said the plume of fertilizer that encourages weed growth in the lake is coming from the Mansfield side, and attributed much of the blame to the heavily fertilized TPC golf course off Route 140.
He said he can see eagles on the point of Feeney's Island, and noted delicate plant life is taking root.
Parham said he wanted to get involved in any way possible.
Selectmen are appealing to townspeople living near any of Norton's ponds and lakes to apply for a seat at the table. Interested residents of any stripe, including any with grant or environmental experience, are encouraged to call the selectmen or conservation office at Town Hall.
Norton's boundaries include four major water bodies - Chartley Pond off South Worcester Street, Barrowsville Pond off Power Street, Lake Winnecunnet, and the Reservoir.
Town manager Michael Yunits, listening to the lively conversations with the applicants for the committee, said, "It looks like these meetings won't be boring."