Fairland Park - Help us investigate the source of the pollution

By: Masays Maeda, AWS Water Quality Specialist

Short version: We need citizens to help us find the source of the pollution at the pond at Fairland Park. If you see vehicle (or RV in particular) illegally emptying into the pond, please take photos and send them to Masaya Maeda at mmaeda@anacostiaws.org.

The pond in the Fairland Recreational Park is polluted.  Our friend, Jeff Goldman, contacted us on August 20, 2016 by email.  Apparently, he had been reporting the pollution to various agencies and his email was desperate.

The email was forwarded to me and I decided to see the pond.  When a pollution case is reported, it is best to see the reported pollution by ourselves before contacting anyone.  On August 26, I visited the pond and found that the pond had indeed nutrient pollution problem. When I first saw the pond, I could not tell if it is a lawn or a pond if there were no Canada geese floating on it.  

The pond is owned by Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC).  Many staff there are very environmental and our good friends.  So, I reported the pollution to them.  When we deal with these problems, there are actually many ups and downs.  Seeing the problem in front of us, any action seems to be slow.  However, the park rangers took some action.  They introduced beneficial bacteria and enzymes to break down the excessive algae.

Though we were pleased that park rangers took action to try to beautify the pond, we do not know if it will work or not and also we were concerned that the broken-down algae, which is nutrients, will be just passed on downstream. 

Around the same time period, Jeff and I did field visit and he told that there was gashing discharge from an outfall that feeds into the pond.  A few days later, he videotaped the gashing flow during dry weather.  Unfortunately because of the thick vegetation around the outfall, we could not see the flow and could only catch the sound of water in a big background noise.  However, this indicates something is there.

Detecting the flow proved to be a challenge for us to solve. Our piezometers that could measure water depth (which nearly equals the amount of flow) are out in the field.  It is too expensive to monitor the stream from the outfall to the pond in a continuous manner.  And there is no guarantee that we may find something after spending a lot of time and financial resources.  However, I came up to an idea; “How about taking photos every 5 minutes at the outfall.”  If there is gashing discharge, we can visually detect it by photo monitoring.

Instead, I set up a trail camera and set it up to take photos every 5 minutes.  And I made a 28 second video from the photos.

The video can also be viewed here: https://app.box.com/s/3xnvmzwxy6dccnwix0db6hk0zsepokj1

The video was made for about at 24 hour period from 10/16-10/17.

The water in front of the outfall is cloudy and the water level moved up and down regularly throughout the day.  The weather was very dry so theoretically, there should be no discharge from the outfall.  Even if there is, the water level must be constant if it is fed only from groundwater.

We shared this video with park rangers and they took it seriously.  They did dye-testing in their facilities to see if their sanitary pipe might be connected to the storm sewer.  However, they did not find a leak or wrong pipe connection.  This is actually a great one step forward because we now know that the facilities do not have wrong connection from sanitary sewer to storm sewer.

The photos taken next week showed a little different pattern.  There was almost no water level rise during work hours and there were during after 5 PM till around 0 AM midnight when people are active at home.  The discharge during regular work hours seemed to have reduced.  And notice that in the second video the water in front of the outfall is much clearer.  Also, water quality in the pond noticeably improved.  We are not sure if the bacteria/enzyme that park rangers introduced worked, or recent temperature drop in November (as of this observation and writing) helped decrease the amount of algae.  Or this decrease in discharge might have improved water quality.  At least, it seems that temperature drop is not the reason of algae decrease.  Jeff noted in his email, “The water quality did not improve last year until the temps dropped down into the low twenties.”

However, again, we still see discharges after 5 PM till around 0 AM.  Check it out in the second video.

The second video is another timelapse of the 24 hour period from 10/31 to 11/1.

The video can also be viewed here: https://app.box.com/s/ndu0xuxwcg3jg29y3v6vh8figs653lhf

Our detailed photo analysis to record the time of water level rise is show below in the table.

Notice that the water level rise is frequent from 5 PM till 0 AM and also weekends when people are active at home.

There isn’t residential houses in the drainage area (See the map –first image in this blog).  The aerial image show that there is no residential units in the drainage area.

Then, who may be discharging from 5 PM till 0 AM? 

This is still a hypothesis but a park ranger mentioned that there are RVs that park during some of the event.  Are they in the parking lot after 5 PM?  We do not know.  That is why we need help.  If you are around the area and could drive/walk through the parking lots, please pay attention to see if anyone may be discharging from vehicles.  But, do not talk to them if you think you cannot talk to them very peacefully.  Environmentalists are upset when we see any pollution.  And if the possible polluter is pointed out their possible wrongdoing, surprisingly, they get mad, too.  When there are angry people confronting, it is easy to imagine what could happen next.  Take photos keeping in mind about privacy thing.  If you take a photo of a license plate, do not share it publicly.  Do not have quarrel with them.  Just keep record and report it to Masaya Maeda of AWS (mmaeda@anacostiaws.org).  Email is preferred.  If we think it is worth reporting, we will contact park rangers and/or park police.

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