The Barnstable Patriot
Developing a roadmap: Barnstable, EPA officials fast-track nitrogen removal efforts
A who’s who of local, regional, and national environmental officials dedicated to restoring clean water on Cape Cod met Oct. 29 in Woods Hole about how to speed up the region’s groundwater nitrogen removal efforts.
The “problem formulation workshop” is spearheaded jointly by Zenas Crocker, executive director of Barnstable Clean Water Association (BCWA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Transitional Science Program, which helps local stakeholders combat nitrogen problems.
Crocker said the Cape Cod Commission’s 208 Plan is tantamount to a test plan, and the missing links are untested tools. The workshop represents an opportunity to develop a research roadmap, ensuring that sustainable, alternative treatments are implemented along with traditional “pipes and pumps” sewering.
“BCWC understands the need for economic growth, and for more housing in the town,” Crocker recently wrote Eric Steinhilber, president of Barnstable Town Council. “Shouldn’t there be an opportunity for open discussion and the airing of all views, new information, (and) prospective alternatives?”
On Oct. 23, Crocker testified against a proposal that Steinhilber introduced to the Barnstable Board of Health. The proposal call for repealing the town’s interim Saltwater Estuary Regulations to allow more development along the Route 28 corridor in Centerville.
Crocker maintains that any proposed regulatory changes should be part of Barnstable’s Comprehensive Water Management Plan.
“We need to be diligent and vigilant,” Crocker said in an Oct. 26 interview. “We need to have sensible, sustainable development.”
Attending the Oct. 29 workshop are members of EPA Region 1, WHOI, MBL, Mass DEP, Cape Cod Commission, Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Nature Conservancy, and UMass. Florida, whose water conditions on the Gulf Coast parallel those of the Cape, sent a contingency from the state’s Bureau of Environmental Health and Division of Disease Control and Protection. Barnstable participants include Mark Ells, town manager; Dan Santos and Rob Stein, DPW director and assistant director; Thomas Mckean, health director, and Tom Lee, board of health.
Crocker said he envisioned the group splitting into teams and deploying site-specific, pilot programs – including wetland restoration, storm water management, shellfish aquaculture, and other alternative treatments – in conjunction with municipal improvements to Barnstsable’s 100-year-old sewer system.
On areas like golf courses, Crocker said, “fertigation wells” could be used to recapture nitrogen-enriched groundwater and re-apply it for irrigation and fertilization. In other cases, “permeable reactive barriers” would create underground filtration walls to treat contaminated groundwater as it flows through.
“These are all basically ideas that have not been tried on any scale,” Crocker said. For instance, “Mill Pond would be Barnstable’s first pond restoration.”
Three Bays – which encompasses embayments, rivers, ponds, and lakes in Cotuit, Marstons Mills, Osterville, and Sandwich – is the third worst-polluted of the Cape’s 53 watersheds, according to the Cape Cod Commission. Due to its geological features and prohibitive costs, sewering is not an option for the watershed; rather, alternative treatments hold promise.
The Centerville River system also exceeds its critical threshold for nitrogen, resulting in impaired water quality. Septic systems account for 87 percent of excess nitrogen; fertilizer, 6 percent, and stormwater runoff, 7 percent.
The Town of Barnstable and the Cape Cod Commission are working together to develop plans for reducing nitrogen loading to estuaries using these and other non-traditional technologies. More about the results of today’s workshop in the Patriot’s Nov. 2 print edition.