Massachusetts Plan to Reduce Nitrogen Levels Receives EPA Approval

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The EPA has formally approved an updated plan from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that creates a robust framework for Cape Cod communities to reduce nitrogen levels that are currently harming ecological health of ponds, bays and other surface waters on the Cape.

The “Cape Cod Water Quality Management Plan Update” submitted by Massachusetts is consistent with provisions in the federal Clean Water Act. The EPA has also approved the designation by the Commonwealth for the Cape’s towns to act as waste management agencies, giving them the authority to take necessary actions under the plan. This designation includes the towns of Barnstable, Brewster, Bourne, Chatham, Dennis, Eastham, Falmouth, Harwich, Mashpee, Orleans, Provincetown, Sandwich, Truro, Wellfleet and Yarmouth.

“While being green is good, that’s not true when it comes to our watersheds,” says Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “(The) EPA is pleased that the Commonwealth, the Cape Cod Commission, Cape communities and residents have really stepped up with a strong plan to take action to protect the Cape’s environment and economy for generations to come. This plan gives Cape communities the tools they need to design and implement local solutions across watershed boundaries. The next year is pivotal for Cape communities to make decisions on their path forward.”

“Nitrogen pollution in Cape waters affects not only the natural resources, but the economy and quality-of-life there too,” says Governor Charlie Baker. “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 is experiencing wide-spread pollution problems due to too much nitrogen getting into its ponds, lakes and bays. Excess nitrogen results in algal blooms, degraded ecological vitality, loss of habitat for organisms and reduced recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. Available studies indicate Cape waters need nitrogen reductions of up to 87 percent.

The economy of Cape Cod relies heavily on a clean and healthy environment to support tourism, fishing, shellfisheries and many recreational pursuits. This economic foundation is threatened by degraded water quality due to excessive nutrients, especially nitrogen.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has played a pivotal role working with the Cape Cod Commission and Cape communities, and has invested significant funding and technical and policy resources.

“In many Cape Cod communities, nitrogen discharges contaminate local water bodies and bays, threatening the environment, the economy and the tourism industry in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” says Matthew Beaton, Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary. “This plan will help communities develop the most effective and affordable solutions to this problem, tailored to local needs. As part of the plan, the administration is committed to funding a monitoring initiative that will ensure that this vital work makes a difference on Cape Cod for generations to come.”

The Cape Cod Water Quality Management Plan Update is a forward-thinking, innovative plan that takes cost into account and uses local decision-making to achieve nitrogen pollution reductions among multiple towns, while ensuring an effective regional result. The Plan Update provides the Cape Cod towns as designated waste management agencies, with a shared, systematic framework to address nutrient challenges, while also providing towns with opportunities to innovate and finely tune pollution abatement measures to fit local environmental, political and economic circumstances.

“This 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,” says Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission.  

The Cape Cod Commission has worked closely with communities and other stakeholders to develop the Plan Update. They have offered to help all communities craft watershed-based solutions, especially where they cross town boundaries. The EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will continue to work closely with all entities to ensure effective and practical solutions are developed and implemented to protect Cape Cod waters from excessive nitrogen pollution.


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