What is Nitrogen Pollution and why is it harmful?
Nitrogen pollution is the greatest threat to clean water in Buzzards Bay and many waterways across Cape Cod. Nitrogen is a fertilizer and fuels the growth of algae: tiny plants that can bloom rapidly and fill the water making it brown. Clumps form at the surface and in the shallows and wash up along the shoreline. Sometimes, algae can even stink like decay, but the effects of nitrogen pollution aren’t just ugly. When algae blooms form, they block out sunlight from reaching eelgrass at the bottom. Young fish, crabs, and bay scallops rely on eelgrass as a nursery and without enough sunlight, eelgrass dies. And those species that depend on eelgrass begin to vanish, too. Algae growth also leads to less oxygen in the water. All aquatic species – from big fish to tiny clams – need oxygen to survive.
In addition, high levels of nitrogen (in the form of nitrates) in groundwater can lead to drinking water contamination. Levels above 10 mg/L are considered unsafe by the state, especially for the very young and elderly. (Back to top)
What are the sources of nitrogen pollution?
Wastewater is by far the largest source of nitrogen adversely impacting our coastal waters. On-site, “Title 5” septic systems are not designed to remove nitrogen and the pollutant travels out of the leach field and through groundwater only to resurface in our shallow sensitive coastal waters. Other smaller sources of nitrogen include powerplant and vehicle emissions, stormwater and fertilizer runoff. (Back to top)
Who is the Buzzards Bay Coalition?
Founded in 1987, the Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration, protection, and sustainable use and enjoyment of the Bay and its watershed. You can learn more at www.savebuzzardsbay.org. (Back to top)
Why is the Coalition involved in this project?
In 2015, the partner communities joined with the Coalition to apply for federal grants to determine whether a regional wastewater solution to reduce nitrogen pollution in upper Buzzards Bay’s coastal waters is a feasible alternative to solve wastewater challenges. Since then, the Coalition has assisted the towns in securing three grants totaling $800,000 to evaluate the project. (Back to top)
Who will this project benefit?
The entire Buzzards Bay region will benefit from this project, but the greatest benefits will be felt in the participating towns. This project will reduce significant amounts of nitrogen pollution to the coastal waters in Bourne, Marion and Wareham which will result in improved water quality and habitat for all to use and enjoy. This project is a potential alternative to meet the wastewater management challenges faced by Bourne, Marion, Wareham, Plymouth, and the Mass Maritime Academy for decades to come. (Back to top)
What environmental benefits does it have?
The proposed solution will ensure the water is properly treated, preserving clean water and removing about 90,000 lbs. of nitrogen annually from our environment – that’s the equivalent of removing 10,000 homes worth of pollution from our local waters. Scientific studies indicate that there will not be an adverse impact on the current ecosystem; in fact, the opposite will occur – the marine habitat and water quality will improve for fish, shellfish and people. (Back to top)
What economic benefits are there from a regional approach?
If towns don’t have capacity to provide sewer service, their commercial tax base cannot grow. Wareham already faces a sewer moratorium, but other towns will face the same choice in the next 10-15 years. This hinders growth of downtowns, like the village of Buzzards Bay, which in turn harms municipal budgets.
A regional approach creates economies of scale to generate capital, operations and maintenance cost savings. Additionally, if the towns form a regional authority, the debt for this project will not be carried on each municipality books – improving credit ratings and reducing costs on other town needs.
Excellent water quality and the beauty of our coastal waters are also directly tied to property values. The murky waters we see are a direct result of nitrogen pollution and this project would help restore waters and protect real estate values. (Back to top)
Why is the canal the preferred location for discharge?
The Cape Cod Canal proves to be the most ideal location for an outfall pipe due to the roughly 56-80 billion gallons of water that flow through the canal daily. The pipe will discharge the highly treated water and the remaining nitrogen will dissipate to a very minute level.
The hydrodynamic study by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution demonstrated that the ideal dilution zone occurs very close to MMA’s outfall. The model used in this study has been externally validated and is considered to be the industry standard. (Back to top)
How will this affect recreational fishing in the canal?
Combatting nitrogen pollution and expanding the discharge at Mass Maritime Academy can help restore critical fisheries habitats, like eel grass beds, in polluted water bodies thereby improving fish abundance and health. This proposal would eliminate 90,000 lbs. of nitrogen annually from estuaries in the Upper Bay region as a result of state-of-the-art wastewater treatment. (Back to top)
How long will this take to build?
No less than 5 years. Once each town votes to approve their membership in the regional plan the design and permitting phase is approximately 18 months, the bidding is approximately six months, and the construction is approximately three and a half years. Notably, this is an ambitious schedule and assumes all partners complete their individual Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan and Town Meetings approve joining the regional plan. (Back to top)
What are the benefits to Bourne?
There will be an estimated 24,000 lb. nitrogen reduction in Bourne’s waters, significantly improving the water quality in Buttermilk and Little Buttermilk Bays.
Capacity for downtown development will increase, which will help revitalize the village of Buzzards Bay. (Back to top)
The town’s existing sewer discharge to Aucoot Cove would be eliminated.
Expansion of sewer infrastructure would allow for more development and housing to be sewered in Marion, as well as sharing the cost across a larger pool of ratepayers. (Back to top)
Additional sewer treatment will increase the value of existing homes. (Back to top)
What are the benefits to Wareham?
There will be an estimated 51,000 lb. nitrogen reduction in Wareham’s sensitive coastal waters. Local waterways, like the Agawam, will be restored as nitrogen is removed from the rivers.
Added sewer treatment and discharge capacity will allow the moratorium to be lifted. (Back to top)
Sending MMA’s wastewater to a regional plant will significantly reduce MMA’s nitrogen contribution.
Significant cost savings would be generated by eliminating operations and maintenance costs the Academy currently bears.
Bait fish habitats would be greatly improved, meaning better striper fishing at the canal. (Back to top)
Who will pay for this?
If a regional alternative is pursued, each partner will be responsible for their share of the expanded treatment capacity. Each town has the flexibility to determine how best to collect the revenues to pay for this project. In addition, the partners will pursue federal infrastructure funding to reduce the overall cost of the project – an option not likely available to each town individually. (Back to top)
Will residents get to vote on this?
Yes, each town will need to hold multiple town votes to approve their town joining the regional compact. This vote will come after a robust conversation with town officials and public presentations. (Back to top)
What are the alternatives to discharging into the canal?
Each partner will have to assess their own alternatives for discharging treated wastewater. The most common discharge alternative is to discharge the treated wastewater into the ground. The challenge this alternative provides is the impact on drinking water, as well as the fact that the nitrogen will flow through the groundwater to our most sensitive near coastal waters. Examples across Buzzards Bay illustrate that these discharges significantly damage downstream coastal waters. (Back to top)