Innovative Cape Water Cleanup Project Gets State Grant

Aug 23, 2018

Credit Eliza McClennan, pleasantbay.org

Pleasant Bay is one of the largest estuaries on Cape Cod, and it stretches across 4 towns: Orleans, Chatham, Harwich and Brewster. These towns just received a  state permit for clean-up efforts in the bay. It's one of the first permits to be issued for a watershed, not just a town or towns.

The Pleasant Bay Alliance oversees the towns’ efforts by providing detailed data on nitrogen levels in the water, helping each town come up with their own clean up plan, and measuring the impact of those plans.  WCAI Morning Edition Producer Hayley Fager spoke with Carole Ridley, Coordinator of the Pleasant Bay Alliance, about the impact this permit will have on nitrogen pollution in the bay. 

Fager: The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has issued a watershed permit to help clean up Pleasant Bay. Can you describe the area and the scope of the cleanup?

Ridley: The towns have developed new treatment plans that are intended and designed to address their town's share of the nitrogen pollution. The alliance and the four towns were invited by Massachusetts DEP to participate in a pilot project for a watershed permit. We took that analysis and we expanded it to more fully describe what the individual town plans were proposing to deal with their share of nitrogen and how effective that was in reaching the nitrogen threshold. And, we found that the plants were, in fact effective, but that there are definitely a few gaps where we could do more to address nitrogen pollution in the system, and we identified some opportunities for collaboration that could help to either speed the removal of nitrogen, and or, lower the cost of that nitrogen removal.

Fager: Approximately 40,000 pounds of nitrogen needs to be removed. How are you going to do that through these partnerships?

Ridley: The towns individually, and collectively, have a lot of flexibility to move ahead in implementing a wide range of solutions to deal with the problems that range from traditional sewering, to use of shellfish aquaculture to take up nitrogen in certain southern embayments within the system, to use of fertigation on some of the golf courses within our watershed, and using innovative onsite nitrogen removal systems that will also help to remove nitrogen.

Fager: Do you think that this project could change perceptions of those non-traditional technologies that you're talking about? When do you think that those will be more mainstream?

Ridley: It's a 20-year permit structured in five-year increments, and we have very clear specific plans for dealing with nitrogen. Those will be rolled out and implemented-- they are in fact being implemented already--, but they will continue to be implemented over the first five years of the permit.

As those measures, which include shellfish aquaculture, include sewering of East Harwich, and so forth, those to be rolled out and monitored. So, there's going to be ongoing monitoring that we're doing in the water column to collect information about nitrogen concentrations in the system. S

So, I think this is clearly an opportunity because the permit provides, for the first time, a regulatory framework for towns to get permitting authorization to implement these non-traditional measures for nitrogen removal purposes, and a clear pathway for them to get credit for any nitrogen removal as a result of those non-traditional technologies. That is going to really move the needle along in terms of understanding the effectiveness of these systems and authorizing them.

Ridley: Carole, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Fager: You're very welcome.

*This transcript has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.