For Immediate Release - January 10, 2013

Commonwealth Recommends Funding to Develop Regional Water Quality Management Plan for Cape Cod Waterways

State Clean Water Funding Would Help Cape Cod Commission Address Discharge of Pollutants

BOSTON – Thursday, January 10, 2013 - The Patrick-Murray Administration along with State Treasurer Steven Grossman’s office today recommended the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust (the Trust) vote to appropriate $3.35 million to develop a comprehensive water quality management plan to reduce nutrient pollution of Cape Cod waterways to meet state and federal water quality standards. A vote could take place as early as next week.

Extensive studies show that Cape Cod bays, rivers and streams face significant water quality contamination due to excessive nutrients, such as nitrogen, emanating from septic systems and other sources. Excess nitrogen accelerates the growth of nuisance plants, weeds, and algae, destroying the habitat that supports native finfish, shellfish, and plants, as well as making the water unsuitable for human recreation. Nutrient pollution not only causes environmental harm, but has serious potential economic impacts, including a decline in fishing, shell-fishing, tourism and property values.

With next week’s vote, the Trust, administered jointly by the State Treasurer’s Office, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Office of Administration and Finance, would grant these funds to the Cape Cod Commission to develop a regional management plan, under the supervision of the MassDEP.

“Addressing the Cape’s wastewater crisis is a crucial challenge we must face for the sake of our economy, as well as our environment,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “The Commonwealth stands ready to be a strong partner in that effort.”

“As a homeowner on Cape Cod for almost 30 years, I have seen first-hand how this crisis can impact the environment, tourism, and our economic future,” said State Treasurer Steven Grossman. “As Chairman of the Trust I am delighted to recommend funding this potentially transformational plan.”

Nitrogen loading in watersheds is a Cape-wide problem, as two-thirds of the Cape’s watersheds cross municipal boundaries. Cost estimates for implementing a solution range from $3 to $8 billion; the lower range depends upon achieving a locally driven regional approach built on communities partnering around shared watersheds. The study funding will provide the Cape Cod Commission and Cape communities with the resources to develop the most cost-effective and environmentally sound approaches to managing water quality across the Cape.

“Nitrogen is a serious threat to the environment and the economy of Cape Cod, and will be a very challenging problem to address,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan. “From both an environmental and cost perspective, the most effective approach is the watershed-based, region-wide solution being pursued by Barnstable County. Funding for a management plan is a critical first step in developing locally-based, but regional solutions that are cost-effective and will work.”

A Cape Cod regional water quality management plan was developed by the now-defunct Cape Cod Planning and Economic Development Commission (CCPEDC) in 1978 under the federal Clean Water Act, but has not been updated since then. In conjunction with this $3.35 million funding, MassDEP would direct the Cape Cod Commission (CCC), as the successor agency to the CCPEDC, to update the plan. The Commission would use $3 million to develop a plan to:

  • Prioritize water resources, identifying the most impaired or endangered, and the actions selected locally to achieve water quality goals as quickly as possible;
  • Limit the amount of infrastructure needed by prioritizing those areas requiring “shared” systems to restore water quality;
  • Provide an opportunity to more fully evaluate decentralized and innovative approaches, as well as the continued use of conventional septic systems where appropriate;
  • Identify preferred solutions for nutrient management in nitrogen sensitive watersheds;
  • Achieve greatest economies of scale, and identify methods to equitably share costs among all parties benefitting from the improvements;
  • Feature a robust public participation process, including a facilitated outreach effort, watershed level advisory committees, and extensive public input opportunities to fully consider all views and input, and to build consensus for identified solutions; and
  • Identify funding and implementation options.

MassDEP would oversee the process, in conjunction with other officers of the Trust, developing specific requirements for funding and reviewing deliverables. Once the plan is finalized and certified by Governor Patrick, it will be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

“The Commonwealth can play a key role in facilitating a regional solution to the Cape’s water quality problems,” said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell. “The plan will guide the development and implementation of wastewater solutions in the future; and throughout the process, MassDEP will provide state input and strong oversight.”

“The Commission stands ready to use any funds provided by the Commonwealth to support the development of a locally based watershed-by-watershed plan that will lay out the best approaches for solving our water quality problems,” said Paul Niedzwiecki, Executive Director of the Cape Cod Commission. “Financial support provided by the Commonwealth, our partner in this endeavor, will go a long way toward solving the Cape’s water problem while saving local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.” 

The remaining $350,000 appropriated by the Trust would be used to build a Cape Cod Wastewater “SmartMap” and cost model. This tool, which would be available to the public through a web-mapping application, would link land use data with newly developed scientific and financial planning data to help Cape communities identify environmentally appropriate and affordable wastewater infrastructure solutions. This tool will support the development of the regional management plan.

“As I mentioned in my inaugural speech to the Senate, the on-going water quality problem facing Cape Cod has reached a critical level,” said Senate President Therese Murray. “Due to rapid population growth, every bay is affected by nitrogen from septic systems and other sources, diminishing the overall quality of the bays and threatening the vibrant tourist economy in our region. The Cape Cod Commission has worked diligently to find a solution to the region’s wastewater problems and I have had discussions with the Treasurer on the importance of this issue. This funding would allow the Cape to take the next step in securing our water future.”

“This is a major step forward for one of my top priorities, to make Cape Cod’s bays, ponds, and estuaries pristine once again, restored to health by planning regionally, collaborating and acting locally, leaving a profound legacy for future generations,” said Sen. Dan Wolf. “We applaud Governor Patrick, Secretary Sullivan and Commissioner Kimmell for their vision and crucial support, while we celebrate all the people in our communities who have worked long and hard to remove this environmental threat.”

“This is great news. Many people who enjoy the Cape as permanent residents or just those that spend their summers there, do so because of simple pleasures such as fishing, clamming, or scalloping in our pristine waters- all things that I know I enjoy,” said Rep. Timothy Madden. “It is our responsibility to ensure that the continued quality of these waters is a priority, not only of the communities, but also of the Commonwealth.” 

“This money is very welcome and vital to our continuing with the wastewater planning process,” said Rep. Sarah Peake. “Residents, fishermen, tourists, and our economy all rely on the Cape having clean harbors and embayments.”

“I have been aware of the need for Cape Cod to take a serious look at the nitrogen loading issue,” said Rep. Cleon Turner. “I look forward to the Trust voting favorably to fund the study and for it to be completed in a reasonable time period.”

“I applaud the Trust and DEP leadership for recognizing the critical need to preserve the Cape’s recreational, tourist, and aquaculture resources. This grant will go a long way towards assisting Cape Cod in addressing our water quality challenge by planning regionally and acting locally,” said Rep. David Vieira.

For more information on water quality issues for Cape Cod, visit