By James Niedzinski
---- — At the end of New Way Lane, a web of small dirt paths and trails is littered with water bottles, beer cans, wrappers and other garbage.
And all of that is ripe for the drinking, if any of it seeps into the nearby body of water.
Dykes Reservoir, high off New Way Lane in West Gloucester, is one of the sources of drinking water for the city. But the beer cans and trash in the woods nearby are symptomatic of a larger issue, says John Perry, who lives at the end of New Lane Way.
He said people can often be found camping, boating, kayaking and swimming in the reservoir — and that it is an old problem.
“There is always something going on,” he said. “It’s like Good Harbor Beach down there.”
Last week, Gloucester police arrested 12 young people — all from either Reading or Danvers — and towed eight cars after numerous reports of people swimming in Klondike and Haskell reservoirs.
“We’re ramping up enforcement in all the reservoirs and quarry areas,” said city Police Chief Leonard Campanello.
At least part of the problem has been a lack of notice, according to Larry Durkin, an environmental engineer for Gloucester’s Department of Public Works.
Perry, who has been calling city officials from Police Chief Leonard Campanello to Durkin himself, had signs destroyed on his property that stated the illegality of swimming in the reservoir. Anyone who swims, boats or enters the reservoir could face a fine up to $1,000.
Durkin said new signs were attached to trees Tuesday, including on Perry’s property and around Dyles Reservoir — and out of the reach for anyone who hopes to destroy them. Durkin added that with the aid of a few interns, he will also be distributing leaflets where people are known to park and swim in other reservoirs.
Durkin added that he plans to meet with other Department of Public Works and police officials, and that Campanello has been very cooperative in spreading the message.
Perry, however, was frustrated Tuesday about what he calls a lack of police presence near his property - and three cars remained outside of his property Tuesday.
If and when police have shown up in that area, he said, they have not searched the area thoroughly or had any cars towed.
“There are only so many times you can call the police station,” he said.
Perry said some people have set up tents and campsites near the reservoir, while others drive and walk around his property, which abuts the water source.
“Everybody is out here setting up shop.” he said.
Durkin said he did speak with Gloucester residents in bathing suits near Perry’s property, reminding them it is illegal to swim in a drinking supply. And he reiterated that swimming in a reservoir used for drinking water poses a real community hazard; it can increase the likelihood of fecal bacteria as well as e. coli getting into the water system, Durkin said.
The East Gloucester water supply includes the Babson Water Treatment Plant; Babson & Goose Cove Reservoirs; and Klondike Water Treatment Plant & Reservoir, while the west Gloucester sources of water are the West Gloucester Water Treatment Plant at Bond Hill, Dykes, Haskell, and Wallace Reservoirs; and the Wallace and Haskell pump stations that transfer water from Dykes Reservoir.
Durkin said the city is set to switch over to West Gloucester water supplies in late August or early fall, but the consequences of illegal swimming are the same, regardless of which water sources the city happens to be using at that moment.
“The long term goal is to build a culture of stewardship,” he said. “Would you want someone swimming in your drinking water?”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.