Barnstable County offers programs, loans to protect Cape’s water supply
Mark Forest, Ron Bergstrom, and Sheila Lyons
Cape Cod Times
April 9, 2023
Water is our most vital natural resource on Cape Cod. Protecting the quality of our water is essential to our public health, quality of life and economy.
This month Barnstable County, the regional government of Cape Cod, is celebrating National County Government Month. As Commissioners, our focus is on raising awareness of the high priority our county government places on the protection of all of Cape Cod’s water resources, especially our “sole source aquifer”.
The “sole source aquifer” designation was made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to raise awareness and provide additional protection to Cape Cod’s drinking water, which comes from our groundwater. The designation means that our region’s water supply is dependent on groundwater and is susceptible to contamination from harmful development and land uses. It calls for added protection from all levels of government.
Barnstable County safeguards our water resources through several different programs and services.
First, is the monitoring of Cape Cod’s drinking water supplies and surface waters at the Barnstable County Water Quality Laboratory. The Lab provides testing and monitoring services to residents and municipalities across Cape Cod. These high-quality services help our towns adhere to state and federal water quality standards and help homeowners who rely on private wells to know that their water is safe.
The County has monitored Cape Cod’s beach water quality for over 30 years. During the summer season, the lab conducts sampling and bacteriological analysis for over 350 marine and freshwater beaches weekly to ensure that our water is safe for swimming and other recreational activities. We partner with the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) to proactively monitor and test Cape Cod’s ponds for cyanobacteria — blue-green algae blooms. If the level of toxins present in the sample is considered harmful to humans, the Lab informs the local board of health.
The pollution from septic systems seeping into our groundwater is one of the biggest threats to Cape Cod’s water quality. Given this dire situation, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is proposing stricter regulations to Title 5 septic systems and Cape Cod municipalities are building sewer systems to protect the region’s water.
With over 120,000 properties with onsite septic systems, Barnstable County’s “AquiFund” Loan Program provides access to low-to-no interest loans with a 20-year repayment term for county residents who will need to upgrade their systems. The “AquiFund” also provides a financial lifeline to County homeowners who need help financing a sewer connection.
Barnstable County has also taken the lead on cleaning up the per-and-polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances discovered at the former regional fire training site used by Cape Cod municipalities from the 1970s to 2009. The PFAS pollution originates from the fire-fighting foams used to extinguish fires during training exercises. The County is following the guidelines established by the MassDEP under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan.
Groundwater pollution follows no political boundaries. It is a regional challenge, and our programs and services are regional — available to all fifteen towns and all Cape residents. Protecting our water is essential to our public health, quality of life and economy.
In the coming months, we will work with the Assembly of Delegates (the branch of county government responsible for adopting new legislation/ordinances) to strengthen these programs and services, to provide additional help to our towns to address PFAS contamination, to expand the monitoring of our ponds and freshwater resources, and to increase the range of financial assistance to our towns and local residents.
For more information on county water initiatives and services, please visit our website at www.capecod.gov/water.
Mark Forest, Ron Bergstrom, and Sheila Lyons are members of the Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners, the executive branch of county government.
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