Water quality plan approved by EPA in Cape Cod

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has developed an updated water quality plan over the last two years to align with the federal Clean Water Act at a cost of $3 million. Governor Charlie Baker and counsel approved the updated plan in June 2015 followed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on September 15, 2015.

The Cape Cod watershed has faced many problems with the water quality because of the increase in nitrogen and phosphorus into  bays, lakes and ponds. Eventually, these substances make their way into outdated septic systems that the local communities heavily rely on. The excess nutrients have promoted the growth of a large algae bloom, which has depleted the amount of dissolved oxygen present in the water.

"The algae bloom caused a significant decrease in tourism to Cape Cod."

The algae bloom has killed many marine organisms, degraded ecological vitality, decreased organisms' habitats and have made the water unsuitable to the local communities for swimming and fishing. The increasing size of the algae bloom has also caused a significant decrease in the number of tourists vacationing to Cape Cod, which has impacted the local economy over the last three decades under the old water quality plan.

"Nitrogen pollution in Cape waters affects not only the natural resources, but the economy and quality-of-life there too," Governor Charlie Baker said in a Cape Cod Commission press release. "With this plan, we hope to help Cape Cod's communities develop local solutions to address their water quality issues. The administration continues to be committed to working with municipal and federal partners to improve water quality and protect the Commonwealth's citizens and environment."

Cape Cod's 208 water quality plan
The Conservation Law Foundation, a nonprofit clean water organization, has been the driving force behind the EPA approving Cape Cod's 208 Water Quality Management Plan. The EPA was sued by the Conservation Law Foundation, which supported Governor Baker and the 15 Cape Cod local government agencies for not following through on reviewing and updating the 35-year-old watershed quality plan.

"The EPA's approval triggers the end of the foundation's suit", Christopher Kilian, a senior attorney and clean water program director for the Boston-based nonprofit organization, said in the Cape Cod Times. "But it does not mean the end of the organization's involvement in local water quality issues."

Federal and state funding were in jeopardy of being taken away from the Cape Cod communities because the EPA would not approve the new 208 water quality plan. The 15 towns that make up the Cape Cod community will have one year to come up with plans to fix the nutrient contamination in the local ponds, lakes and bays. Studies conducted by the EPA have determined that the Cape Cod watershed needs nitrogen reductions of up to 87 percent to prevent harmful algae growth and pollution. The plans will have to include water quality consultants, ecological consulting services and a management agency to implement the plan and address pollution control.

Algae blooms in Cape Cod have resulted in a decrease in tourism. Algae blooms in Cape Cod have resulted in a decrease in tourism.

"This plan [The Cape Cod Water Quality Management Plan] is the product of unprecedented cooperation among Federal, State, Regional and local agencies and most importantly a lot of hard work by the people who live here. It is a plan for Cape Cod by Cape Cod that establishes the framework for watershed-based action to restore water quality and protect our economy," said Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission.

Current sewage system to be updated
Cape Cod communities rely on a septic sewage system that is very outdated. This is the reason for much of the nitrogen and other nutrients getting into the local watershed, which is causing the increase in algae blooms. Andrew Gottlieb, the executive director of the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative, has stated that the new 208 Water Quality Management Plan promotes the use of new less-expensive technology for waste management and provides financial incentives that can potentially cut the costs by 25 percent or more over a traditional, centralized sewer system.

There is much more data to support a traditional sewage system, which is what the federal and state regulations favor. However, the Cape Cod Commission has spent time and money evaluating over 40 alternative waste management technologies when developing the 208 water quality plan. The state agreed with the plan as well as the monitoring required to determine their effectiveness in reducing the amount of contaminants in the groundwater and storm-water runoff. According to the 208 plan, the local communities are not completely against a traditional sewage system, but will only consider that approach to solve the watershed problem if all the other solutions fail.

"EPA is very proud of the extensive effort by Cape Cod communities, the Cape Cod Commission and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to address head-on the issue of excessive nitrogen entering Cape waters," Curt Spalding, the New England regional administrator for EPA, said in the Cape Cod Times. "Cape Cod is a national treasure, and EPA is committed to ensuring that it remains a cherished place for generations to come."