Pollution of Cape Cod’s waterways from excessive nutrients is a grave environmental and economic challenge. This spring, the Commonwealth stepped up to the plate and pledged $3.35 million to help the Cape Cod Commission develop a comprehensive water quality management plan for Cape Cod, demonstrating the need to preserve the Cape’s water quality and ensure that this vital region has sufficient wastewater management in place.
MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell, Treasurer Steven Grossman and Cape Cod Commission officials signed the agreement, which provides funding through the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust, administered jointly by MassDEP, the Treasurer’s Office, and the Office of Administration and Financing. The water quality plan will be drafted and offered for public review within the next 12 months, and a final plan will be certified by Governor Patrick and then submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.
The Cape Cod Commission is the regional agency charged with developing the water quality plan which, when implemented, will reduce nutrient pollution impacting Cape waterways in order to meet state and federal water quality standards. Nutrients – such as nitrogen – are discharged from septic systems and other sources, which have contaminated Cape Cod bays, rivers and streams.
Nitrogen overload, for example, causes growth of nuisance plants, weeds and algae, destroying habitat for native finfish, shellfish and plants. Other nutrient pollution also contributes to resource degradation, and declines in fishing, shell-fishing, tourism and property values.
Gov. Patrick marked the agreement, noting, “Addressing the Cape's wastewater crisis is a crucial challenge we must face for the sake of our economy, as well as our environment. The Commonwealth stands ready to be a strong partner in that effort.”
The funding, as announced by the Trust, provides the Cape Cod Commission sufficient resources needed to develop the most cost-effective and environmentally-sound approaches to managing water quality across the Cape. While there are varying estimates, ranging from $3 to $8 billion, for implementing a solution to the nutrient problem, the MOU underscores that there is clearly agreement among state leaders that allowing a degradation of the region’s ecosystem is unacceptable.
One of the key reasons for the lower estimated amount to implement a solution would be if there is a locally-driven regional approach, one that is built upon communities partnering together around their shared watersheds. At this stage, MassDEP will oversee the plan’s development, in conjunction with other officers of the Trust.
MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell said, “MassDEP will partner with the Commission and local officials to develop and implement a cost-effective solution that addresses the serious nutrient problems that exist in watersheds across the Cape. We will ensure that this process includes significant citizen participation and public input every step of the way.”
For its part, the Commission will use the $3 million to develop a plan that will prioritize water resources, identifying the most impaired or endangered, and the actions needed locally to achieve water quality goals as quickly as possible. The plan will also limit the amount of infrastructure needed by prioritizing those areas requiring “shared” systems to restore water quality. It will also provide an opportunity to more fully evaluate decentralized and innovative approaches, and identify preferred solutions for nutrient management in nitrogen-sensitive watersheds. A portion of those funds have now been transferred to the Commission to begin work on the plan.
An additional $350,000 appropriated by the Trust will be used to build a Cape Cod Wastewater “SmartMap” and cost model. It will link land-use data with newly-developed scientific and financial-planning data to help Cape communities identify environmentally-appropriate and affordable wastewater-infrastructure solutions. It will also support the development of the regional management plan.
The MOU designates the Commission as the area-wide planning agency for Cape Cod and it requires the Commission to draw up the water quality management plan. The agreement also outlines the responsibilities required to be carried out by the Trust, MassDEP and the Commission.
Among the items listed in the MOU Scope of Work are establishment of a regulatory-agency working group to oversee the planning process, and the creation of a robust public participation process that will include advisory committees at the Commission level, watershed level and municipal level.
For more information on the Cape Cod water quality management study, visit: Commonwealth Signs Pact with Cape Cod Commission to Develop Water Quality Management Plan.