- Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
Media Contact for Town meetings to address Cape water quality issues
Edmund Coletta, MassDEP – Director of Public Affairs
In 2015, Cape Cod communities, along with state and federal agencies, came together to create a framework to address the most significant environmental issue facing Cape Cod — the contamination of the Cape’s many bays and estuaries due to nitrogen pollution. As stated in the recently updated Cape Cod Water Quality Management Plan, “the rapid decrease in the water quality of Cape Cod’s marine ecosystems is plain to see. The problem is nitrogen and the largest controllable source is the septic systems used every day.”
With the dramatic increase in Cape development and population over several decades, more and more nitrogen has been discharged into the Cape’s waterways, polluting our bays and estuaries and choking off once-abundant marine life. This contamination not only presents serious environmental impacts, but also has a serious potential economic impact that includes a decline in fishing, shellfishing, tourism and property values.
The continuing nature of the problem over the decades has not only affected the quality of life on the Cape, but also led to litigation and the prospect of significant government regulation and enforcement to mandate the process of cleaning the waters. The Baker-Polito administration is committed to helping the communities on Cape Cod solve this problem.
To help facilitate an effective and timely solution to the Cape’s wastewater challenges, the state Department of Environmental Protection directed the Cape Cod Commission in 2013 to prepare an updated regional water quality plan in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act. Over the next two years, Cape citizens and communities came together and, through extensive public input and dialogue, developed a plan, known as the “208 Plan.” It emphasizes local decisionmaking to determine the best, most cost-effective solutions rather than those that could otherwise be imposed on communities by the state and federal governments. The plan encourages communities to share treatment systems to reduce costs, and supports innovation and natural solutions where possible, while recognizing that there is a need to act very soon to address the problem that the Cape is facing.
Since the plan’s adoption, communities across the Cape have been working to develop thoughtful, efficient solutions to this significant water quality issue. Among the communities implementing solutions is Falmouth, which chose to expand its wastewater collection system to priority watersheds while piloting alternative strategies. Another is Chatham, which is moving to expand its wastewater system and work with neighboring Harwich to help address some of their mutual challenges.
It is encouraging to see communities collaborating to develop regional, watershed-based solutions. The communities sharing Popponesset Bay (Mashpee, Sandwich and Barnstable) have agreed to an Inter-Municipal Agreement, which outlines their responsibilities for addressing the nitrogen impacting that watershed, and commits to working together on solutions.
The Pleasant Bay communities (Brewster, Chatham, Orleans and Harwich), working with the Pleasant Bay Alliance, have similarly agreed to their nitrogen removal responsibilities for Pleasant Bay, and are working closely with MassDEP to develop an innovative new permitting approach, called a “watershed permit,” which provides nitrogen reduction credit for alternative wastewater management strategies such as shellfish propagation or “permeable reactive barrier” walls.
Bourne, Mashpee and Falmouth are collaborating with Joint Base Cape Cod (JBCC) to look for opportunities to maximize use of the JBCC wastewater treatment facility for community benefit.
Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich and Barnstable are also working on a potential community partnership as a means to try to lower the construction and operation-and-maintenance costs of their potential wastewater management scenarios and, earlier, the Baker-Polito administration awarded a $150,000 Community Compact Grant to support these efforts.
Dennis, Harwich and Yarmouth each have articles on their spring town meeting warrants to create the DHY Clean Waters Community Partnership. Progress in these communities is encouraging and will hopefully become templates for cost-effective local action across the Cape.
These communities are doing the right things by looking at the data to see where cost-effective approaches can be recognized and implemented. And they are right to do this work now. Inaction and a lack of progress would lead to potential state action with regard to changing Title 5 rules, federal permitting actions, or additional third-party actions that could force a one-size-fits-all approach on Cape Cod communities. MassDEP will continue to work with communities that are thinking today about cost-effective solutions for tomorrow. This is an important opportunity for communities to shape sensible approaches to clean water that will benefit the Cape and the Commonwealth for generations to come.
- as published in the Cape Cod Times on 5/4/18, linked here: