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Barnstable Clean Water Coalition

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2020 Articles

Eastham, Orleans Shellfishing Areas Closed due to Red Tide Toxin

EASTHAM – The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has announced that they have closed the Nauset Marsh System in Eastham and Orleans to shellfishing due to the Paralytic Shellfish Poison toxic, commonly known as “Red Tide.”

The system includes Nauset Harbor, Mill Pond, Town Cove, Nauset Marsh, and Salt Pond.

Digging, harvesting, collecting, and other shellfishing activities will be suspended until further notice. - Eastham, Orleans Shellfishing Areas Closed due to Red Tide Toxin

Cape Cod Times
By Zenas Crocker
Posted Mar 9, 2020 at 2:01 AM

Relocate Cape Cod Hospital, halt risky expansion

Cape Cod Healthcare (CCHC) is in the final stages of planning a hospital campus expansion that brings important community assets closer to Hyannis Harbor and our rising seas. The sensible and vital, longer-term vision should be to relocate the entire hospital campus away from the waterfront to the existing CCHC 40-acre expansion site in Independence Park in Hyannis.

The latest information on sea-level rise comes from the dozens of sentinel stations located along the coastline of the United States. The message is clear and alarming: sea-level rise is accelerating. It really doesn’t matter what is causing the seas to rise for the purposes of this discussion; the question is how do we ensure the protection and functionality of Cape Cod’s most important community asset?

Recent Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps put the current hospital campus barely out of the danger zone. The proposed new building is only a few feet away from the current 12-foot surge area. Have we already forgotten or are we choosing to ignore the lessons of Hurricane Sandy? Storm surges are unpredictable and, with rising sea levels, a margin of just a few feet represents a startling lack of forethought. In a time of acute crisis, the hospital needs to be accessible, open and fully functional.

The commonwealth of Massachusetts has recently launched a comprehensive Municipal Vulnerability Program to help communities with the challenge of sea-level rise. The Cape Cod Commission has received grant funding from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others to examine the challenges of rising seas with an eye toward developing options to cope with the inevitable changes our fragile peninsula will face. It appears to be paradoxical to accept a grant to examine these challenges while reviewing a project of this magnitude in this precarious location at the same time.

Here at the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition, we have published a book examining relatively current modeling on sea-level rise with suggested options on how we can cope. In association with the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Landscape Architecture, this study looks at options ranging from armoring to retreat. No doubt, we face many different choices, but in our wildest dreams we never expected to see a proposal for the expansion of the hospital even closer to Cape Cod’s ever-sinking coastline.

Community leadership, the state and our citizens should insist that we move the entire hospital campus inland and adjacent to the Mid-Cape Highway. Yes, this area is a groundwater protection zone, but proper planning can accommodate that. A new highway exit should be designed, so that emergency vehicles have adequate and rapid access to this critical community resource. Now is the time to start planning for these changes. We really don’t have the luxury of delay, since such a major shift would require decades and millions of dollars.

I am currently enrolled in the town of Barnstable’s Citizen Leadership Academy and I recently met with members of the Emergency Medical Team and I asked them their thoughts regarding the current planning for the hospital’s expansion. “It’s an ‘MCI’,” they said.

“What’s that?”, I asked.

“Mass Causality Incident.” When and if the generators go out, the entire hospital will need to be evacuated ... off Cape! If we have any doubts that this could happen here on Cape Cod, all we have to do is look at the experiences of other coastal communities.

Another recent “My View” column noted a host of additional reasons to reconsider this expansion, from traffic to taxes. Why not examine the longer-term opportunity to repurpose the existing hospital campus? Perhaps a residential redevelopment designed to help our housing shortage? The right designs could easily accommodate the rising sea. Such an effort could help revitalize the East End of Hyannis. Planners could reconfigure the Lewis Bay coastline to accommodate and protect this area. Cape Cod Hospital would be where it belongs: elevated, protected and ready to serve all of Cape Cod!

Zenas Crocker is executive director of the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition, Three Bays Preservation.

Cape Cod Times - Relocate Cape Cod Hospital, halt risky expansion

The Barnstable Patriot
By Marina Davalos
Feb 7, 2020

Striking a balance

This is the second of a two-part series.

Part 1 covered the problem: excess nitrogen and phosphorus from the Cape’s existing septic systems are creating toxic environments in our bodies of water. Period.

Now for the solutions. We talked with Linda Cronin, professional engineer and owner of CSN Engineering in Brewster; Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC); and Zenas Crocker, executive director of the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition (BCWC).

Let’s start by presenting how existing septic systems work and why they’re failing us. Cronin, who has designed and installed hundreds of septic systems, explained that in a typical septic tank, wastewater flows from the household and into a tank, which holds the wastewater long enough so that solids (aka sludge) settle to the bottom (to be later pumped out), and oils and grease (aka scum) float to the surface. The separated wastewater is then piped out of the tank and discharged into a drain field or leach field that releases the wastewater into the soil for natural absorption.

“The soil will treat the pathogens in the wastewater and make them inactive,” said Cronin, “but it doesn’t take out the nitrogen.”

Studies have indicated that in good healthy soil, four feet is what is needed to remove harmful bacteria and pathogens. But some areas of the Cape have such coarse, sandy soil that the wastewater percolates right through and doesn’t get the necessary treatment that soil can provide, Cronin said.

But there are also alternative septic systems in place. Instead of a standard Title 5 septic system, an added treatment tank, or a treatment module inside a custom-made septic tank, works to “de-nitrify” wastewater to acceptable levels. Unfortunately, they’re expensive.

“It could add a considerable cost over and above the typical Title 5 system, not to mention an operations and maintenance plan, and it uses more electricity,” Cronin said.

Town sewering has been touted as a necessary part of the solution to the septic problem.

Sewering is essential, says Gottlieb. The region-wide wastewater management plan, more commonly known as the 208 plan developed by the Cape Cod Commission, envisioned that each town on the Cape would have its own plan and some shared infrastructure with neighboring towns rather than one central treatment plan serving the entire Cape.

Sewer pipes under the street would collect and pump wastewater away from the groundwater in sensitive areas and discharge treated effluent into less sensitive areas. It is through this treatment and discharge system that nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater are removed from groundwater.

The collected wastewater would end up in a wastewater treatment center, much like the one in Hyannis. Wastewater gets treated to remove contaminants, bacteria and nutrients and then is discharged back to the ground in a location determined to be able to handle the treated effluent. Typically, these discharge areas are outside sensitive watershed and recharge areas for drinking water supplies.

“The notion that there’s an alternative that doesn’t include some amount of sewering is wrong,” he said. “If you sewer, the nitrogen and phosphorous never go into the ground in the watershed of the sensitive resources we are trying to protect – it’s the only solution that can solve the problem in its entirety.”

While alternative septic systems can reduce nitrogen, they don’t necessarily do the same for the phosphorous, which limits their effectiveness for water quality problems in lakes and ponds.

But even though a sewer system would eliminate the nitrogen and phosphorus problem, not everyone agrees it is the best solution. With a traditional septic system, homeowners and businesses must comply with laws regulating the number of bedrooms or employees, or restaurant seats, etc. in a home or building.

“With sewering, those measures are no longer in place, and we’d have no population control,” Cronin said. “Not to mention, sewering is a huge expense, and we would need large land areas for the treatment facilities.” Utilizing off-Cape treatment facilities would remove large volumes of water that would no longer be available for recharge, which would create other environmental issues, Cronin said.

A reasonable and less costly solution is both: a combination of sewering and alternative septic systems, an approach that is the basis of Barnstable’s Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan.

“Alternative septic systems are not new, in fact there are several thousand in operation on the Cape and Islands,” said BCWC’s Crocker. But he said these systems have flaws: They’re costly to maintain, and their performance hasn’t proven to be much better than existing Title 5 systems.

However, there’s a new opportunity emerging. The BCWC is working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Nature Conservancy and the Town of Barnstable to identify a next-generation alternative septic system.

One such system, named NitROE, is configured similarly to a traditional septic system, with a tank and a leach field. But in between, the wastewater travels into an aeration chamber and then through a chamber of wood chips which process the wastewater to a level close to that of many municipal treatment systems.

Crocker said 10 of these systems are currently being tested on Martha’s Vineyard with very positive early results. To him, sewering makes sense in higher density areas, but in communities farthest away from wastewater treatment plants, individual systems may make more sense.

“Sewering infrastructure costs are very high, and there are limited wastewater disposal choices, such as the controversial outfall pipes into Nantucket Sound.

“We have to look at the capacity of the existing systems and look at the cost,” Crocker said. “In denser neighborhoods, sewering may be more practical, but elsewhere, individual systems may offer a better option at lower cost.”

Marina Davalos is a freelance writer who lives in Cotuit. Follow her on Twitter @Marina_Davalos1.

The Barnstable Patriot - Striking a Balance

The Barnstable Patriot
By Marina Davalos
Jan 31, 2020

Troubled waters: Scientists test for links between lower herring counts & cyanobacteria

This is the first in a two-part series.

Low herring counts and increasing cyanobacteria blooms mean that more needs to be done to curb human activity when it comes to the Cape’s most precious resource – water.

Last month, Jo Ann Muramoto, director of science programs for the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) sent out a press release with the heading, “Results of 2019 volunteer counts of river herring on Cape Cod are a troubling mixed bag.”

River herring, which include alewife and blueback herring, are listed as a Species of Special Concern by NOAA and considered critically important in the coastal food web. Since 2005, there has been an ongoing moratorium on river herring catch, sale and possession, the press release states. While nine herring runs on the Cape actually increased in size from 2018, eight run sizes decreased.

“The year-to-year change is not always useful unless there’s a really dramatic change,” Muramoto said.

For example, the Marstons Mills River run size increased from 10,306 herring in 2018 to 35,092 in 2019. However, overall counts for the Marstons Mills River have been on a steady decline since 2012, when the count was 87,308. Volunteer training begins every year in February and March for herring run counts beginning in April and running through June, when herring are migrating upstream to spawn. Volunteers count for 10 minutes at a time, using a clicker counter.

While the main cause of the low herring run counts has been overfishing, pollution also factors in, and experts are beginning to weigh in on the ongoing threat of cyanobacteria.

Brad Chase, diadromous fisheries project leader with the State Division of Marine Fisheries, said that since cyanobacteria is a fairly recent phenomenon, there’s no actual cause and effect relationship between cyanobacteria and low herring counts – yet.

“Cyanobacteria is a concern for Cape Cod ponds, both in terms of potential reductions in the quality of river herring spawning and nursery habitat, and the broader concern for all aquatic life,” said Chase.

Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of APCC, agreed that this is a new area of interest and scientific inquiry. “We’ve identified it as a ‘maybe’ situation,” said Gottlieb, adding that the organization has obtained funding to pursue this avenue of exploration.

What is cyanobacteria, and what does it do?

In a healthy pond, Gottlieb said, the vegetation rooted at the bottom provides the oxygen that feeds the pond life. A process known as eutrification occurs when excessive plant and algae growth begins to limit factors needed for photosynthesis.

In layman’s terms? “The excess algae growth makes it hard for sunlight to get to the bottom aquatic plants,” said Gottlieb. “The algae clouds the water, and the result is less oxygen, creating a die-off effect. The algae becomes toxic because there’s simply too much of it, and other organisms can’t compete with it,” he said. Over large periods of time, this is a naturally occurring process, but experts say we’re speeding up that process – way too fast.

“Across the region, 40% of ponds had water quality that didn’t meet basic parameters of a healthy pond,” said Gottlieb. The three main causes of pollution in our ponds are outdated septic systems, over-fertilization and storm water runoff; but by far, the main instigator is the nitrogen and phosphorus that emanate from septic systems, seeping into our ground water and ponds, feeding the toxic algae blooms.

Think the algae dies and disappears in the winter? Think again.

“In cold weather the algae settles to the bottom of the pond and creates a dormant, over-fertilized organic layer – it smothers the plant life like a blanket, killing whatever’s on the bottom,” said Gottlieb. “When it gets warmer in the summer, it floats back up to the top, thus an entire negative feedback loop is created,” he said.

Two Barnstable High School seniors – Barnstable resident Graham Hempstead and Sofia Hailu of Centerville – are interns at the Osterville-based Barnstable Clean Water Coalition (BCWC). They have been monitoring three Centerville ponds: Bearse Pond, Long Pond and Lake Wequaquet, since last September.

“We test the nitrogen and phosphate levels and the dissolved oxygen in the water,” said Sofia Hailu, who plans to pursue environmental studies in college and eventually go into environmental law. All three of these ponds were closed to swimmers in 2019 due to toxic cyanobacteria blooms. “We’re working on it to see if it’s going to come back,” she said.

The interns spend one hour per day, three days a week on the ponds. “We take two water samples to measure if the nitrogen and phosphorus levels are going up or down – one sample from a meter deep and the other closer to the surface,” said Graham Hempstead, who also plans to pursue environmental studies in college.

According to Hempstead, nitrogen levels in the summer months are particularly alarming. “The amount of nitrogen that we’re putting in the waters in the summer is more than double what it should be,” he said.

Is there hope? Experts say yes. Stay tuned for Troubled Waters, Part 2: Solutions.

Marina Davalos is a freelance writer who lives in Cotuit. Follow her on Twitter @Marina_Davalos1.

The Barnstable Patriot - Troubled waters: Scientists test for links between lower herring counts & cyanobacteria

Cape Cod Times
By Doug Fraser
Posted Jan 24, 2020 at 9:14 PM

Cape seen as protected from weakening of Clean Water Act

The Trump administration and the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new Clean Water Act rule this week that removed many Obama administration protections of streams, wetlands and other water bodies that don’t connect to a river, lake or ocean by surface water flow.

The new rule could roll back protections for as much as 60% of the nation’s waterways and wetlands and increase nutrient and fertilizer flow and the infiltration of chemicals and pesticides into rivers, lakes, bays and water supplies, according to clean water advocates and scientists.

Environmentalists and others say the new regulations are not supported by science, will likely result in litigation and could severely reduce the effectiveness of the landmark Clean Water Act.

While Massachusetts and other states in the Northeast that have strong regulations to protect water and wetlands will be largely unaffected, scientists and environmental advocates worry about the degree of harm to large areas of the country with no such protections.

“The federal government remains committed to working with all states, localities, and tribes to enhance their capacity to regulate, protect and restore their waters,” the EPA said in an emailed statement in response to a request for comment.

“I think it is very well-established science that water flows through watersheds in ways that aren’t always on the surface,” said Christopher Neill, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center who sits on the board of directors of the Buzzards Bay Coalition and the Coonamessett River Trust.

Neill said that’s exactly what happens on the Cape, where over half the water collecting in the region’s rivers and entering our estuaries from land comes through groundwater seeping in along the shoreline. Features like small kettle hole ponds, cedar swamps and vernal pools would be unprotected under the new federal rule, although they retain protected status under state regulations.

In 2015, President Barack Obama was faced with U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 that cut out water bodies not fed by surface water and maintained restricted safeguards only to navigable waterways, rivers, lakes, streams and any adjacent wetland. But definitive scientific research found that water bodies connected by groundwater to larger water bodies were critical to the Clean Water Act, the guiding principal of which is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our Nation’s waters.”

Neill said the vast majority of a water system — a network of large channels connected to progressively smaller ones — is in the smallest channels, which would no longer be protected under the new rule.

“Those are in close contact with the land and so those are collecting the runoff from the land and diverting it into these larger water bodies,” he said.

H. Curtis Spalding, the former EPA Region 1 (Northeast) regional administrator, said the 2015 Clean Water Act rule took an important step to bring science and the law back in line by including wetlands, small streams and other water bodies not connected or adjacent to surface waters as protected features.

It was something that ranchers, farmers, mining, oil and gas production companies, the pesticide and fertilizer industry, golf course owners and others opposed as expensive and bureaucratic. Many in those industries praised the Trump administration’s decision this week.

But the administration’s own scientific advisers said the new rule was not supported by science. In an advisory from October, the EPA Science Advisory Board found the rollback of protections in the new rule “departs from established science” and does not support the objectives of the Clean Water Act. They said the 2015 rule “found a sound scientific basis for the inclusion of these wetlands.”

“I don’t think anyone ever saw this kind of pullback,” Spalding said.

Removing safeguards from such a large class of water bodies that have scientifically been shown to be linked to major waterways and water sources went way beyond reversing an Obama-era rule. It could, once again, allow areas that are only occasionally wet but are linked to major water bodies through groundwater to have fewer restrictions on industrial land use. It would also be easier to fill in wetlands.

“Putting chemicals into ephemeral areas or wetlands, or along agriculture ditches or other areas that connect with groundwater does endanger the waters of the U.S., the larger water bodies where we get our drinking water,” Neill said.

It also sets back efforts at curtailing nitrogen pollution from wastewater, farm fertilizers and animal waste that have helped create a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and water quality degradation in the Chesapeake Bay.

Reducing standards so that treatment will not be required and leaving the wetlands that can buffer larger water bodies by absorbing contaminants unprotected is a “double whammy,” said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod.

“This is going to add significantly to the burden of these systems,” Gottlieb said. “It will cut significantly into efforts to reduce the dead zone.”

“It’s a loss for all of us,” Spaulding said. “We are all connected by water quality across the country. We need protection of the wetland system everywhere.”

Massachusetts, along with many states in the Northeast, has water and wetland regulations that are as strong as, if not stronger than, the federal laws.

“For the Northeast, the Obama rule (in 2015) was not a major issue, in large part because the states, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA had been working for years on integrating state and federal wetland rules,” Spalding said. “Protection for the Northeast for wetlands was about as comprehensive as it can be.”

“It appears that the proposed rule change to the Clean Water Rule will have little impact on Cape Cod,” said Kristy Senatori, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission.

Senatori also pointed out that the regional commission’s wetland definition of protected water bodies is even broader than the state’s wetlands protection act “so projects we review are held to an even higher standard regarding wetlands protection.”

But state officials have expressed concerns to the EPA that the new federal rule may ultimately result in poorer water quality in areas where state and federal agencies both have jurisdiction.

In comments on the first proposal of a new rule in 2017, the state Department of Environmental Protection particularly noted that it would affect the issuance of state and federal Army Corps permits for disposal of dredged materials in U.S. waters, making the permit process confusing and more bureaucratic for applicants. They also worried that state jurisdiction could be curtailed in some areas, “thus impeding the Commonwealth’s oversight and protection of its environmental resources.”

Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter: @dougfrasercct.

Cape Cod Times - Cape seen as protected from weakening of Clean Water Act

CapeCod Today
By Sonja Sheasley
Jan 16, 2020

County Connections - Featured Program: Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center

Supporting local health departments with testing and research...

Editor's note - “County Connections" is a monthly column illustrating how Barnstable County supports our region through its numerous and multifaceted programs and initiatives.

MASSTC, a division of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, began about 20 years ago supporting Health Departments across the Cape in meeting standards for wastewater treatment, but quickly developed into much more than that. Located on Joint Base Cape Cod, their team of specialists are passionately working to protect our water resources by testing and researching products that remove the myriad of contaminants found in domestic wastewater. 

Some History

Beginning in the early 1990s, we began to see eutrophication and algae blooms on Cape Cod.  Although nitrogen is important for all living things, the culprit was (and is) too much of it from fertilizers and human waste that nature can’t break down fast enough.  Phosphorous-laden detergents and personal care products are also flushed or poured down the drain, which often happens without anyone thinking a second thought.

Layer Cakes

Knowing that 97% of the Cape’s homes depend on on-site septic systems to treat wastewater, the team at MASSTC understood that the answer was in improved septic system technology. Based on work previously done in Canada and Florida, MASSTC has researched and improved a passive leach field modification to attain enhanced nitrogen removal. They affectionately refer to them as “layer cakes”.  These layer cakes reduce nitrogen content in wastewater by more than 90 percent, and some phosphorous. They are designed to work with private septic systems by creating an underground leaching field, layering soil, sand, and woodchips. The excess of nitrogen and phosphorus is not entirely removed in our abbreviated water cycle here on Cape Cod, home of the sole source aquifer, resulting in a severe impact on our ecosystems.

Brian Baumgaertel, Director of MASSTC says, “It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of industry at MASSTC. We are working locally, but these are really global solutions and they have a huge impact.”

Through a $700,000 grant from the state Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Project (SNEP), this grant has allowed MASSTC to take the research done at the facility and install these in real-world backyards.  If successful over time, this technology could be adopted by the state, making these systems available to the public someday, and having an enormously positive impact to the environment on Cape Cod, and other places that share our wastewater challenges.  That also explains why MASSTC has enjoyed an international audience over the years.

The Grass is greener...over a layer cake

MASSTC recently launched their #WasteNoWater Campaign. The goal of this campaign is to show that domestic wastewater doesn’t need to be flushed away, it can be used to grow food and plants, and without the use of fertilizers. This initiative is not grant funded and illustrates the passion and inventiveness at MASSTC. The process goes like this: wastewater is treated by filtering it through a layer cake and simulated stream beds.  This process filters out most contaminants and leaves the water rich in nutrients that plants need to grow. The water is piped over to an adjacent greenhouse where it is used to grow vegetables and flowers hydroponically and without fertilizers. Plans are underway to collaborate with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension where “Waste No Water” gardens will be demonstrated to the public.

Other Projects

MASSTC has plenty of other projects on its plate, like the Nitrogen Sensor Challenge.  In collaboration with the EPA, MASSTC is hosting participating teams from various communities and organizations who are trying to find creative and cost-effective nitrogen sensors that will give real-time nitrogen data to homeowners, system operators, and regulators in order to determine how well the system is performing at removing nitrogen in homes.  Entrants bring equipment and set up at the MASSTC where they perform their testing.  The winner of this Challenge will receive a prize in the form of a guaranteed order of a number of sensors from the EPA.

Nitrogen isn’t the only contaminant to worry about when it comes to wastewater. Many of Cape Cod’s freshwater ponds have seen increasing summer algae blooms which are directly related to the phosphorus in wastewater. MASSTC has received a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to install a small number of phosphorus removal systems in homes to assess their efficacy in addressing the algae bloom issue. Other upcoming projects will look at contaminants such as human pathogens, pharmaceuticals, personal care products and other contaminants of emerging concern.

Water and wastewater management are vital to our region’s health, both for our residents and environment. Help us grow awareness of the important work MASSTC is doing to protect our fragile water resources on Cape Cod. For more information, visit MASSTC.

Cape Cod Today - County Connections - Featured Program: Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center


Barnstable Clean Water Coalition