Coalition active in Cape Cod nitrogen planning

For decades, Cape Cod’s coastal waterways have suffered from nitrogen pollution. Increased development and a unique geology that allows polluted groundwater to flow directly to coastal waters has left the Cape’s coves and harbors inundated with pollution. Plants and animals, like eelgrass and bay scallops, have disappeared from many areas, leaving large mats of slimy algae in their place.

The Coalition is taking an active role to ensure that Cape Cod’s coastal waters are clean again. Most recently, the Coalition has been advocating for better decisions to reduce nitrogen and plan for the future.

Balancing economic development with clean water in Buttermilk Bay

Red Brook flowing into Buttermilk Bay at the Lyman Reserve in Bourne

The Coalition’s Bay Health data show that Buttermilk Bay is polluted with nitrogen due to septic system discharges from nearby homes.

In Bourne, the Coalition is encouraging the town to consider the health of Buttermilk Bay as it plans to grow. The community of Buzzards Bay is expanding, and the town wants to build a new wastewater treatment facility to accommodate more people and businesses. Within the next 15-25 years, the local wastewater treatment facility will discharge an estimated 335,000 additional gallons of treated effluent per day, sending more nitrogen into the environment.

Part of that treated effluent would flow through groundwater into Buttermilk Bay, which Bay Health data show is already polluted with nitrogen due to septic system discharges from nearby homes. Both Buttermilk Bay and neighboring Little Buttermilk Bay both fall short of state requirements for clean water. In other words, they can’t accept any more nitrogen.

In its comments to the Board of Sewer Commissioners, the Coalition encouraged Bourne to build a bigger wastewater treatment facility and link local homes on septic systems, which would reduce nitrogen pollution and help clean up Buttermilk Bay. The bottom line: The town has a great opportunity to grow its economy while also protecting the health of its local waters.

Draft 208 plan charts a course for clean water on Cape Cod

green algae bloom in West Falmouth Harbor

Nitrogen pollution fuels the growth of algae blooms, like this one seen in West Falmouth Harbor in 2012.

This summer, the Cape Cod Commission released the long-awaited draft 208 Water Quality Management Plan. This plan is a direct result of the Coalition’s legal action to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action on the Cape’s nitrogen pollution problem. Prior to the release of this draft, the 208 plan had not been updated since 1978.

The Coalition has actively participated in the process to update this plan. Now we’re reviewing the plan so we can provide comments and ensure that officials chart the strongest possible course for clean water on Cape Cod.

You can lend your voice to the plan by attending a public hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 21 from 4-6 p.m. at Mashpee Town Hall. You can also submit a comment online by Nov. 20.

Category: On the Bay

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Current Issues

Nitrogen Pollution

Nitrogen pollution is the greatest long-term threat to the health of Buzzards Bay. We all contribute nitrogen pollution to our local waterways. Fortunately, we can all do our part to stop it.

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Working to Save Buzzards Bay

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

We work to protect clean water on the Bay and on the land: