Four Boards Of Selectmen Unite For A Cleaner Watershed

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Groundwater protection , Drinking Water , Wastewater treatment , Waterways

Pleasant Bay, as viewed from Nickerson Neck, Chathamport.  KAT SZMIT PHOTO

The four towns on Pleasant Bay – Brewster, Chatham, Harwich, and Orleans – stepped up their commitment to work together to remove excess nitrogen from their waters. A quorum of each community's board of selectmen, meeting at the Cape Cod Commission's OneCape Summit in Hyannis June 22, voted in turn to approve a resolution crafted by the Pleasant Bay Alliance.

The resolution endorses a composite picture of the towns' nitrogen reduction goals and their plans to meet them and signals interest in exploring becoming the test case for the state Department of Environmental Protection's proposed regional watershed permit. Under the proposed process, town's could trade nitrogen reduction within the watershed. Also, the towns will join with the Alliance in investigating collaborative cost-saving efficiencies such as one community paying another for processing some of its wastewater rather than building its own facilities.

Chatham and Harwich have already collaborated on reducing nitrogen in Muddy Creek with the construction of the new Muddy Creek bridge.

“This is an historic moment,” Pleasant Bay Alliance steering committee chair Allin Thompson, a former Harwich selectman, said after the votes.

“We're hopeful that the Alliance will be one of the first groups to come together to help us help you,” the DEP's Dave Johnston told the boards of selectmen. Johnston, a deputy regional director for the agency's southeast region, said the department's proposed regional watershed permit would be developed with “the first communities in the door” to ensure proper credit can be given for non-traditional nitrogen removal methods such as permeable reactive barriers and shellfish cultivation. “We are ready to meet and carve out what this looks like,” he said.

Johnston said the new permit would allow adaptive management as monitoring of results indicates what's working and what isn't. “There'll be room to change direction along the way,” he said, with the initial permit running 20 years, with possible renewal for another 20.

“We think we're ready to kick one off,” Johnston said of the watershed permit pilot project, “and we hope the Alliance will be the first to knock on our door.”

In its composite analysis, the Alliance pegged the total amount of attenuated nitrogen to be removed from Pleasant Bay at 17,717 kilograms per year, broken down by town as follows: Brewster 2,262 kg/yr (13 percent of total removal responsibility), Chatham 4,076 kg/yr (23 percent), Harwich 4,399 kg/yr (25 percent), and Orleans 6,980 (39 percent).

Later that evening at the OneCape Summit, which was held at the Resort and Conference Center in Hyannis, the Alliance won an award from the Cape Cod Commission for its leadership on water quality issues.

Not content to rest on that laurel, the Alliance met June 27 in Orleans to “develop a framework for coordinated, cost-effective modeling and monitoring to support town plans and regional watershed nutrient management analysis,” according to the meeting agenda.