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Barnstable Clean Water Coalition

Find out what is in the news at Barnstable Clean Water Coalition!

The Barnstable PatriotBy Marina Davalos
Jul 6, 2018

Watershed update presents problems while offering hope

On June 29 Osterville native Zenas “Zee” Crocker told an audience of about 175 of his shock -- upon moving home three years ago -- of seeing algae blooms in the water.

“I always thought that algae was microscopic, but this is a type of algae,” said Crocker, executive director of Barnstable Clean Water Coalition, displaying a slide of ulva, a type of non-naturally occurring “sea lettuce” growing at Prince Cove in Marstons Mills.

The reason for these algae blooms, he explained, is an excess of nitrogen discharge from septic systems into the water.

“Too much nitrogen from septic systems over-fertilizes,” Crocker said. “It pollutes the water and creates algae blooms that kill off sea life.”

The open house presentation, titled “An Update on Our Waters and Watersheds,” took place at the Wianno Club. The forum also featured Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells and Chris Kilian, vice president of strategic litigation at Conservation Law Foundation.

“You’re going to hear some things tonight that may scare you a little,” Barnstable Clean Water Coalition President Michael Egan said by way of introduction. “But it’s designed to do that.”

The presentation focused on Three Bays, one of the Cape’s 53 watersheds, which encompasses embayments, rivers, ponds, and lakes in Marstons Mills, Osterville, Cotuit, and Sandwich.

According to the Cape Cod Commission, Three Bays is the third worst-polluted watershed on the Cape.

“The good news is, there’s a lot of interest in this watershed,” said Crocker. “It’s a living laboratory.”

Sewering is not an option for the watershed, due to its geological features and prohibitive cost (it would cost at least a billion dollars), but there are alternatives. That’s where the Cape Cod Commission’s 208 Plan comes in as a watershed-based approach to restoring embayment water quality on Cape Cod.

“The 208 Plan isn’t necessarily a plan, but it’s more like a menu,” Crocker said. Some of the “menu options” include dredging; wetland restoration; storm water management such as rain gardens; and aquaculture, such as oysters, which filter the water and reduce nitrogen.

The 208 Plan also proposes an alternative to a conventional Title 5 systems.

A NitROE tank is a supplement to an existing Title 5 in which an aeration chamber and a wood chip chamber are installed. The wood chips are a carbon source and filter waste for significant total nitrogen reduction.

“These systems are being tested at the Joint Base in Sandwich and on Martha’s Vineyard, and have demonstrated nitrogen removal rates of as much as 95 percent,” Crocker said.

According to Ells, water quality on Cape Cod is indeed a very complex issue.

“It’s all about quality of life and maintaining our unique character. At the center of that is water,” he said.

Ells mentioned some of the projects that have taken place, including dredging in East Bay.

“Did it solve the problem? No. Did it make a difference? Yes,” said Ells, adding that he’s optimistic for the future.

Kilian, whose organization led the cleanup of Boston Harbor in the 1980s, echoed both Crocker and Ells.

“Here on the Cape, there’s such a broad understanding of how fundamental water is,” Kilian said. “In the 1980s, this is the same talk that was happening around Boston Harbor.”

Kilian said the criteria for passing or failing Title 5 systems, set by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, have not met the requirements of the law.

“When it comes to nitrogen discharge into the waters of the Commonwealth, there should be no system that should have been passed,” he said. “It’s a long dialogue that needs to be translated into action.”

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The Barnstable Patriot - Watershed update presents problems while offering hope

NOAA FisheriesApr 20, 2018

River Herring are Running in Local Rivers

River herring gets over a fish ladder at Mill Pond in Marstons Mills on Cape Cod.
River herring gets over a fish ladder at Mill Pond in Marstons Mills on Cape Cod.

It’s that time of year. River herring are returning to local rivers and streams to spawn. For Northeast Fisheries Science Center researcher Ruth Haas-Castro, counts began April 1 at Mill Pond in Marstons Mills on Cape Cod and will continue while the river herring are running in April and May, sometimes into June. Water temperature needs to be about 52 degrees F for the river herring to move, which means the night-time temperatures have to remain above freezing.

Haas-Castro, who studies Atlantic salmon and other river-run fish species, volunteers for a ten-minute time slot at Mill Pond when she has a chance, joining a community count run by the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition and the Town of Barnstable. The coalition runs the Mill Pond count and the town manages a count at Middle Pond just up the road.

“I’ve been participating in the count since 2011. It helps me keep a finger on the pulse of river herring,” Haas-Castro said of her volunteer efforts. “Plus it's really close to my house so it is easy for me to do, and its related to my work.”

There are twelve slots each day for the Mill Pond count, with nine required for a good count. Most are filled by retirees and other interested citizens. The weather has been cool and Haas-Castro hadn’t seen any fish until Saturday, April 14, when she counted 7 river herring during her 10-minute slot.

Haas-Castro has recruited several other NEFSC staff to join the effort, and noted that similar river herring counts are going on all over the Cape and up and down the Atlantic coast.

World Fish Migration Day is celebrated on April 21, but events are planned through May.

NOAA Fisheries - River Herring are Running in Local Rivers

Cape Cod Times
Oct 25, 2017

Opposition to Sampsons project misplaced

The expertise of the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition and the Massachusetts Audubon Society is being called into question by a very small group of beachgoers who object to the removal of 400 feet of the western point of Sampsons Island. Their arguments are misplaced. The degradation of the point and channel affects both the birds and the beaches to the west, Loop and Riley’s.

The success rate of shorebird nesting sites here is miserable at best, and nonexistent lately. The point is the most exposed to the full variety of least tern and piping plover enemies: Nantucket Sound, which washes out nests; predatory birds, which lay waste to eggs and nestlings; and, finally, Homo sapiens, accompanied occasionally by the family dog, whose odor and proximity can be sensed. These sites are “killing fields” and do need to be removed to force the birds to go to safer nesting habitat. The Mass Audubon’s well-reasoned management plan will greatly improve the amount and success rate of prime nesting habitat elsewhere on the islands.

The removal of the point will improve the swimming. This was the most valuable section of Sampsons Island in the 1950s. But now, the weight of the sand at the point is extruding a foul-smelling sediment of undetermined origin. These sediments are degrading the area, even for the Barnstable Citizens Group (“Audubon, Three Bays must consider alternatives in Cotuit,” My View, Oct. 12), and must be removed. We heartily support efforts to identify this substance and have it promptly and efficiently removed!

The navigable channel must be restored for safety reasons. Swimmers interact at their peril with the boat traffic that is forced ever closer to Riley’s Beach by the spit’s growth and the flow of the tide here. We are fearful that, at any time, accidents between boats and swimmers will happen that would not if the harbor entrance were widened. The matter of safety here has been on the local civic association’s list of Cotuit concerns for annual meetings with the town manager and town department heads for as long as such meetings have been held.

Although widening the entrance will not have a great impact on lessening the nitrogen loading of Cotuit Bay, any improvement is a positive one. General water quality will be improved — even if only by a slight percentage. Commercial shellfish operations by Cotuit Oyster Co. and others are compromised by the narrowing entrance. An increased flow of water from Nantucket Sound will have a positive effect on their product and the entire bay. The proprietor supports this project wholeheartedly. The disturbance of sediment will be temporary and ephemeral.

All this shore is dynamic, and the sand is perfectly suitable — even as a temporary bulwark — against the erosion at the east side of Dead Neck. On the other hand, the recommendation to dredge the entire Cotuit channel is an excellent idea, one the town of Barnstable should rapidly pursue and then maintain. Why? Because to ensure attractive and successful nesting habitat, refreshing the south shore has to be a continual project. Moving the sand from the point of Sampsons Island is merely the beginning of an ongoing effort to maintain bird habitat of these bird sanctuaries. It’s time for the naysayers to stop their efforts to stall this project.

Cape Cod Times
October 8, 2017

Restoring a Mill Pond

Zenas Crocker, executive director of the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition, says it’s time to shout “hair on fire” about the degrading quality of the Cape’s water resources -- from its groundwater to fresh water ponds and salty estuaries.

Formerly Three Bays Preservation Inc., the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition now works to restore and preserve clean water throughout the entire town of Barnstable. Crocker and his team warn that the Cape’s water is impaired, mostly by excess levels of nitrogen. On average, 85 percent of nitrogen in our waters comes from septic systems, 10 percent from fertilizers that most of us dump on our lawns every year, and 5 percent from stormwater runoff.

The Massachusetts Estuaries Project has determined that the Three Bays estuary and embayment system, comprised of West Bay, North Bay and Cotuit Bay on the south side of the Cape, receives about 46,000 kilograms of nitrogen per year from septic systems, fertilizer and stormwater runoff. The total watershed limit for Three Bays is about 26,000 kilograms per year. As a result, about 20,000 kilograms of nitrogen must be removed from the watershed.

How is that accomplished?

According to the Cape Cod Commission, about half the excess nitrogen, or 10,000 kilograms, could be removed by aquaculture alone. Oysters and quahogs filter nitrogen from the water. About 43 acres of aquaculture beds would be needed to remove this amount of nitrogen, and finding suitable sites may be the most challenging obstacle. After all, oceanfront homeowners have gone to court to stop aquaculture projects near their beaches.

Of course, mitigating stormwater runoff and managing fertilizers would also reduce the nitrogen load.

But in one of the most ambitious projects to reduce nitrogen in the Three Bays watershed, the Coalition also supports restoring Mill Pond off Route 149 in Marstons Mills. Mill Pond dates back to the 17th century when it was created by a small dam, built to power a gristmill. The Cape is home to scores of mill ponds.

Currently, Mill Pond receives most of its nitrogen from the Marstons Mills River, which flows into the pond from the north. But because the pond is very shallow, less than two feet deep on average, most of the nitrogen flows right through the pond and continues heading south to Three Bays.
The plan is to dredge the pond to restore its ability to act as a nitrogen trap or “sink.” This important ecological role has been significantly diminished due to significant eutrophication and sedimentation over the past 300 years.

“Longer (nitrogen) residence time provides for more settling of solids and increased biological uptake and dentifrification processes,” according to a report last year from the Cape Cod Commission.

Currently, the pond retains only about 25 percent of the nitrogen that flows through it. By dredging sediments that have built up over the centuries, the pond could retain as much as 60 percent of the nitrogen.

According to a study conducted by Lycott Associates Inc. in 2008, about 90 percent of the pond contains organic sediment in excess of seven feet deep. In 2012, under contract with the Cape Cod Water Collaborative, Horsley Witten Group Inc. prepared an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) for the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office (MEPA). The ENF was submitted for the proposed Mill Pond Improvements Project with the overall goal of nutrient attenuation, water quality, habitat improvements in Mill Pond and water quality improvements in the downstream systems.

But dredging requires a series of state and local permits. And according to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), Mill Pond contains the bridle shiner, a small fish protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. According to the Cape Cod Commission, the NHESP provided recommendations to alter the project footprint to confine dredging to a more limited portion of the pond to protect the shoreline habitat as well as provide an area of refuge in the southeastern portion of the pond during dredging. Based upon this information, a revised project has been designed that includes a more limited dredging area.

Crocker believes the Mill Pond project could be “a living laboratory,” where lessons from project could be applied to all the other mill ponds across the Cape.

The Barnstable Patriot
September 11, 2017

Barnstable Town Council adopts draft of long-term wastewater treatment plan

Lindsey Counsell’s work is done, and yet it’s just begun.

Counsell retired in April after 20 years as executive director of Three Bays. He retired again Aug. 17 as chairman of the town’s Water Resources Advisory Committee, because the committee’s work – 18 months of inventorying, sampling and testing – is now complete. The resulting draft report identifies and meticulously measures Barnstable’s sewering water woes and recommends how to best deal with them.

Thanks to Counsell, Barnstable DPW Director Dan Santos, Town Engineer Paul Graves, and Assistant Town Engineer Amanda Ruggiero, the town has a working draft of a wastewater treatment management plan designed to protect and improve the town’s water supply over the next 60 years, in compliance with the Capewide Section 208 Water Quality Management Plan.


The Barnstable Patriot
September 1, 2017

APCC offers plan to reduce Three Bays nitrogen

Stormwater runoff and fertilizer account for more than 23 percent of the nitrogen polluting the Three Bays watershed, according to the first phase of a three-year study by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition and the town of Barnstable.

Three Bays is severely degraded by nitrogen and bacteria, resulting in poor water quality, degraded habitat and closures of beaches and shellfish areas, restoration ecologist April Wobst told an audience of two dozen local residents at Osterville Village Library Wednesday. Excess nutrients cause algae blooms, block out light, use up oxygen and kill fish and shellfish in beach waters, especially after heavy rains.


The Barnstable Patriot
August 3, 2017

Barnstable Clean Water Coalition: Cape’s nitrogen crisis is treatable

Barnstable Clean Water Coalition Event
[Photo By: Bronwen Howells Walsh]
Barnstable gets its drinking water from the same source that its septic systems are leaching into, and the nitrogen crisis facing Cape Cod is not sustainable.

That’s what Michael Egan, president of the board of the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition (formerly Three Bays Preservation), told the audience during his lecture at Osterville Village Library Tuesday. Following the talk, attendees burst forth with questions about reversing a creeping tide of water pollution.

“This water quality problem affects the entire economics of the Cape,” Egan said. “You’re here for the quality of life that has at its heart the water. People think [nitrogen pollution] is all up in Prince Cove...but it’s creeping down to North Bay. People haven’t figured it out yet.”

The good news is that Barnstable has seven distinct watersheds, Egan said.


Cape Cod Times
August 2, 2017

Three Bays Preservation renamed, focus expanded

Three Bays Preservation Inc. has changed its name to the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition and expanded its focus to be a town-wide organization dedicated to restoring and preserving clean water in marine estuaries, ponds, rivers, and coves throughout Barnstable, according to a statement from the organization.

The nonprofit was founded in 1996 to dredge areas around a barrier island and undertake conservation, science and policy initiatives in and around the watershed that includes West, North and Cotuit bays, the statement says.

The coalition unveiled its vision for its new focus at a June 23 open house, at which Executive Director Zenas Crocker explained the four cornerstones of its mission — monitoring, education, advocacy and mitigation, the statement says.

The Barnstable Patriot
June 28, 2017

Barnstable Clean Water Coalition renews call to action at Osterville open house

It was a celebration of past accomplishments combined with a fresh call to action for the future as the newly-christened Barnstable Clean Water Coalition – formerly known as Three Bays Preservation – held an open house at Nauticus Marina on Friday, June 23.

A portion of the late afternoon/evening event in Osterville was dedicated to honoring longtime Three Bays director Lindsey Counsell, who retired this spring after leading the nonprofit for two decades.

“This is really the logical next step for this organization,” Counsell told the crowd.

The name change comes with an new mission that not only expands the organization’s physical scope but its purpose, embracing not only education but advocacy as well.


Cape Cod Times
June 26, 2017

Three Bays Preservation Gets New Name, Updated Mission

Cape Cod Harbor

OSTERVILLE – Three Bays Preservation hosted an open house on Friday to reintroduce themselves to the community, now as The Barnstable Clean Water Coalition. The Coalition’s Executive Director Zenas Crocker says that the new name serves a number of purposes for the organization.



Barnstable Clean Water Coalition