Coalition appeals Falmouth wastewater permit to protect Herring Brook and Old Silver Beach

The Coalition is appealing a permit that would allow the town of Falmouth to discharge treated wastewater into the ground near Herring Brook, a coastal waterway that drains to popular Old Silver Beach.

Herring Brook from Quaker Road bridge

Herring Brook drains to Buzzards Bay at Old Silver Beach, a popular summer destination in Falmouth.

Herring Brook suffers from too much nitrogen pollution. According to Coalition’s Bay Health data, the health of Herring Brook has been poor for at least the past decade, and it hasn’t shown much improvement. Herring Brook drains to Old Silver Beach – one of Buzzards Bay’s most beautiful and popular summer spots for locals and visitors.

But a new wastewater permit approved by the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) puts Herring Brook’s health in even greater risk.

Falmouth is expanding sewer lines to East Falmouth, another part of town that suffers from significant nitrogen pollution. This sewering project will help improve the health of East Falmouth’s coastal ponds. However, the project is permitted to send the new wastewater all the way to Herring Brook.

According to state law, the town must offset any new pollution loads to Herring Brook so the water’s health doesn’t get any worse. But in this permit, DEP didn’t require any such offsets. Against its own law, the state issued a permit that would allow Falmouth to add a new source of nitrogen pollution to a waterway whose health has already deteriorated.

To protect Herring Brook and Old Silver Beach, the Coalition appealed Falmouth’s wastewater permit in April.

It’s common for Cape Cod wastewater treatment plants to discharge treated wastewater into the ground. But these groundwater discharges are harmful to Cape Cod’s shallow, sensitive coastal waters. When wastewater is released into the ground, nitrogen slowly leaches through the Cape’s sandy soil to nearby coves and harbors. Too much nitrogen pollution leads to algae blooms that make it hard for underwater life to survive.

Falmouth has a problem: It needs to expand sewering to more homes, but it doesn’t have the space to create new groundwater discharges. Too many of Falmouth’s waterways – from Herring Brook to West Falmouth Harbor to East Falmouth’s coastal ponds – are polluted with nitrogen. An ocean outfall at Nobska Point may provide a solution to this problem.

The Coalition will continue to fight to protect clean water in Herring Brook, at Old Silver Beach, and throughout Buzzards Bay.

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: