Many people know that nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen are contained in fertilizers, and when overused can cause water pollution problems that require corrective action. But the impacts of excessive nutrient pollution to coastal communities from wastewater disposal systems and storm water runoff are not understood as well.

For these communities, nitrogen is of particular concern. It negatively impacts delicate coastal estuaries, resulting in a decline of aquatic plants and wildlife. A common display of these impacts are algal blooms that cover water bodies and cut off the sunlight and oxygen availability that the subsurface aquatic life and food chain require to thrive. This can also affect the coastal economy by hindering or prohibiting fishing, boating and swimming due to unsafe and unhealthy water bodies.

The MEP was developed in 2001 to determine current nutrient loads and assist in the evaluation of future nutrient load scenarios for 89 estuaries located in 32 Southeastern Massachusetts coastal communities. In order to accomplish this, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) has to be established for a waterbody, in accordance with MassDEP and USEPA requirements. TMDLs determine how much of the nutrient a waterbody can accumulate before it can no longer support a healthy habitat for aquatic life.

The MEP is a collaborative effort between MassDEP, UMass Dartmouth, and many of the towns that have been targeted for this project. A total funding effort of $12.5 million is administered by MassDEP and UMD/SMAST. However, in 2009, the number of estuaries targeted for the MEP was reduced to 70 due to a lack of local matching funds and/or project process challenges and delays.

The MEP uses a linked-model to evaluate nitrogen inputs to the tidal estuaries and provides technical guidance to support appropriate wastewater, watershed and embayment management as well as development of TMDLs. Currently, a number of these planning efforts are being supplemented with additional nutrient-management-focused components, and the remaining Cape towns are all in various stages of the CWMP process.

To date, the MEP team has finalized 41 draft technical reports, 32 final technical reports, and has produced 23 associated TMDLs for individual project embayments for 77 segments within the MEP systems. Documentation for an additional 12 embayments evaluated within MEP over the past SFY are currently being finalized.

In accordance with the current Inter-Agency Service Agreement (ISA) between MassDEP and UMD, the remaining MEP tasks are scheduled to be completed by 2013.

Reports by Watershed

The Massachusetts Estuaries Project
A joint project of MassDEP and the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Three Case Studies of Towns Sharing a Coastal Watershed
This report incorporates watershed-based permitting strategies, innovative nitrogen reduction methods including nutrient trading, inter-community cooperation, and other MassDEP recommendations for reducing nutrient loads in coastal watersheds.

Massachusetts Estuaries Project Interim Report on Site-Specific Nitrogen Thresholds for Southeastern Massachusetts Embayments: Critical Indicators doc format of Nitrogen Indicators for SE Mass Embayments
pdf format of Nitrogen Indicators for SE Mass Embayments
Report on key water quality indicator for nitrogen loading in Southeastern Massachusetts estuaries.