Too much pee in Walden Pond

A group of scientists who studied the iconic Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., say that urine from generations of swimmers is not only fouling the water, but changing the ecosystem.

“More than half of the summer phosphorus budget of the lake may now be attributable to urine released by swimmers,” states the study published on the science blog Plos One

The pond, made famous by author Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 book “Walden; or, Life in the Woods,” is an example of a kettle hole: a hollow formed by retreating glaciers that later fills up with water. Walden is about 12,000 years old. 

In Thoreau’s day, the water was so clear the author could see to the bottom some 30 feet down. Today, eutrophication (an overgrowth of plants and algae caused by excessive nutrients in water) is turning the lake cloudy — and the scientists say it’s only going to get worse. Tourists have been flocking there — and, apparently, peeing there while swimming — since the author’s work was published in the 19th Century.

It’s not the only threat the pond has faced. Over the years, forest fires, pesticides and runoff have polluted Walden. Although conservation efforts to mitigate those problems were somewhat successful, the scientists warn that tourists — specifically, those who don’t wait to use proper restroom facilities — threaten to turn the body of water into a green stew of algae.

The problem isn’t unique to Walden — nitrogen and phosphorus threaten waterways all over the globe. Excessive fertilizer use, malfunctioning septic systems and soil erosion are some of the main culprits, and every summer there are reports of beaches closing because of water pollution — just look at Beltzville Lake in Carbon County. 

It’s one more reason to create a buffer zone, install a rain garden, reduce or eliminate lawn fertilizer use, and ensure pollutants don’t get washed (or dumped!) into storm drains.

And if you visit Walden or any other body of water, resist the urge to use it as your personal toilet.