Cape Cod watershed map
Extending 70 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, the Cape Cod Watershed is surrounded by the salt waters of Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and Nantucket Sound. The watershed encompasses a drainage area of approximately 440 square miles and includes 559 miles of coastline, 360 ponds, 145 public water supply wells, eight Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, numerous rare and endangered species, approximately 116 square miles of protected open space, and 52 separate embayment watersheds.

Four towns on Cape Cod are in the "top 10" in Massachusetts for the largest number of state-listed rare species records. The Town of Barnstable is one of only five towns in the state with more than 100 records of rare species.

The Cape was formed by glaciers approximately 20,000 years ago and is comprised of a series of interconnected broad, glacial outwash plains and hilly moraines. There are 15 towns in the Cape Cod Watershed that comprise Barnstable County. Many of the towns on the Cape are divided into villages, each with its own unique personality. The watershed supports a year-round population of approximately 250,000 people and a peak summertime population of approximately 500,000 people. In 1961, 70 square miles - or approximately half of the Outer Cape - was granted National Park status and named the Cape Cod National Seashore, which currently receives 5 million visitors a year.

Watershed Priorities

  • Reduce or eliminate non-point source pollution through comprehensive water resources management planning
  • Ensure drinking water quality for the future by identifying potential new water supplies and protecting existing sources
  • Support community preservation efforts within the watershed including planning for sustainable growth and protecting Cape Cod's critical habitats
  • Improve communication, outreach, and education between citizens and watershed partners
  • Monitor and assess fresh water ponds, coastal embayments, and threatened water bodies to protect water quality, habitat, and enhance recreational uses

Watershed Successes


Volunteers monitoring a vernal pool
In the spring of 2002, a workshop was held for people interested in certifying vernal pools. Matt Burne, from the Department of Fish and Game's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, led the training. Mario Degregorio, from Horsley and Witten, Inc., led a field visit.

The Cape Cod and Islands Senior Environment Corp (SEC) is actively involved in using volunteer efforts to protect and preserve the environment. The SEC is conducting a pilot project in the Town of Brewster to conduct field verification and certification of vernal pools. This project will optimize the preservation of vernal pools and their species while conducting outreach efforts for the protection of endangered species and their habitats.

In 1999, people came together to discuss declining pond water quality. A collaborative project to increase pond stewardship and water quality monitoring was proposed and the PALS project was born. The PALS program brought together local, regional, and state environmental groups with the goal of building stewardship through monitoring, education, advocacy, and land acquisition to protect ponds. The main goal was to increase the number of groups monitoring ponds and taking an active role in their protection. As a result of three workshops and technical assistance from several organizations, over 66 people volunteered to monitor ponds. New pond associations are forming and existing associations are taking on new roles, such as being pond advocates and monitors. In 2001, the Towns of Yarmouth and Harwich received volunteer water quality monitoring grants to establish a pond-monitoring program. The Towns of Eastham and Brewster hope to get a volunteer pond-monitoring program started. Armed with new data, these groups are ready to conduct pond restoration and protection programs.

Watershed Publications

Watershed Links

Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Pleasant Bay Resource Management Alliance
Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)


This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Water Policy