Amherst officials mull Puffer’s Pond improvements

Amherst officials are considering improvements to Puffer’s Pond to deal with sediment buildup, an uptick in E. coli bacteria and erosion. 

Amherst officials are considering improvements to Puffer’s Pond to deal with sediment buildup, an uptick in E. coli bacteria and erosion.  FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2024 8:42 PM

AMHERST — The frequent closure of Puffer’s Pond last summer due to high levels of E. coli bacteria, coupled with ongoing concerns that sediment is filling the pond, is prompting town officials to focus on developing a plan for improvements.

At the Conservation Commission meeting last week, Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said a priority is being put on fixing the pond, long a popular site for swimming throughout the warm-weather months, both for residents and area college students.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve lost so many swimmable days at Puffer’s Pond, it’s really kind of getting to the point where we need to do something there,” Ziomek said.

A first step is working with Fuss & O’Neil engineers on a vision and understanding that there are challenges with both the dike and the circa 1895 dam that keeps the pond in place.

More complicated, Ziomek said, is understanding why the pond is filling in and deciding whether to dredge the pond for the first time since 1986, when 100,000 cubic yards of material were removed.

“We all know that if we want to keep that resource as it is, as an open water resource, we have to either dredge it, or not,” Ziomek said. “But if we want to keep it as a pond, it’s filling in pretty rapidly.”

Ziomek said Fuss & O’Neil’s work will also begin addressing beach erosion, continued deposits of material from Cushman Brook that may be contributing to filling in the pond, issues on the various walking trails that surround the pond, as well as accessibility, parking and other assorted concerns.

“We’re kind of looking at a comprehensive plan to address those over time,” Ziomek said.

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Ziomek is already meeting with a University of Massachusetts professor and students to see how the quality of the Mill River, which is below Puffer’s Pond, is impacting Hadley and the Connecticut River watershed. He said the UMass staff may also be able to help in looking at the Cushman Brook issue.

He said upstream water sampling a few years ago found few problems, though it’s possible that changes have occurred since then.

Ziomek said there hasn’t been money for examining the water quality in streams across town. “There’s no real comprehensive effort at this point to coordinate all that,” Ziomek said.

Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacque said some funding for that could come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, yet Amherst has been limited in seeking FEMA grants because the town doesn’t currently have the necessary hazard mitigation plan.