Letter to the Editor:
“Barnstable County Commission Should Widen Its Search for a New Executive Director for the Cape Cod Commission”
As a retired scientist and grassroots environmental activist living in the Waquoit Bay Watershed in East Falmouth, I was engaged in the Superfund/Safe Drinking Water Act Cleanup at Joint Base Cape and the wastewater infrastructure debate to reduce nitrogen loading from septic systems that have created water quality problems and lead to habitat losses in Waquoit Bay. When I worked at the Fisheries Lab in Woods Hole, I participated in an EPA-lead Waquoit Bay Watershed Ecological Risk Assessment project which showed a relationship between nitrogen loading; loss of eelgrass beds and collapse of the bay scallop harvest.
The Cape Cod Commission developed a watershed approach to reduce “N” loading from septic systems that involved development of Targeted Watershed Management Plans being developed by each town. The Waquoit Bay Watershed is occupied by Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich and Joint Base Cape Cod which are pursuing different types of TWMPs with likely different funding mechanisms. The CCC assumed that 50% of the infrastructure costs would be met by state/federal grants which seems very unlikely. Since this infrastructure program is estimated to cost $ 4-7 billion over the next 20-30 years, this will place a heavy burden on Cape Cod towns and our less affluent residents who face stagnant incomes and rising costs of living. This poses a serious Environmental Justice challenge in these residents continuing to live here.
In recent times I participated in some webinars organized by the US Water Alliance which has a national “One Water” campaign. In one of these I learned that the watershed plan for the state of Iowa that included nutrient pollution; toxic chemicals in drinking water; flooding of Superfund sites; etc. cost half of the $4-7 billion anticipated costs here on Cape Cod. Iowa has 10 times more people than Cape Cod and produces much more nitrogen and phosphorus pollution than we do. Nutrients from agriculture and Combined Animal Feeding Operations not only causes local water quality problems, but contributes to the “dead zone” in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Political leaders in Iowa have not found a way to fund this modest watershed plan and it appears that EPA is unlikely to force them to do so.
The Clean Water Act non point wastewater cleanup here on Cape Cod is overseen by the CCC; Ma. DEP and EPA region 1 (with the Conservation Law Foundation legal settlement included) and is focused solely on reducing “N” loading from septic systems. When I worked on the cleanup at Joint Base Cape Cod, they not only cleaned up the toxic pollution plumes, but also improved the water quality in Ashumet Pond (by reducing phosphorus loading from the sediments and former base wastewater treatment plant). This has improved the water quality; improved the benthic habitat for mussels; reduced low oxygen conditions in the bottom waters during the Summer; increased recreational uses and eliminated toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the Summer. For Waquoit Bay under the Targeted Watershed Management Plans the operational goal in Phase 1 is to improve water clarity.
This doesn’t seem to be a major accomplishment for spending such a large amount of money. The Little Pond sewering project in Falmouth cost $ 45-50 million (with an additional $ 3-4 thousand cost incurred by the homeowners to hook up to the sewers). Falmouth has 14 “nitrogen” impacted embayments, so that sewering them; expanding the West Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Plant and having an ocean outfall in Nantucket Sound for treated sewage effluent doesn’t appear to be economically feasible to me. There will also be disposal costs for excess sewage sludge which contain toxic chemicals (which the Bourne Integrated Solid Waste Management facility won’t take).
We need to expand the search for a new Executive Director of the Cape Cod Commission beyond the current Deputy Directors, so that when have to address perfluorinated chemicals in our drinking water and climate resilience/adaptation challenge, we can come up with solutions which are cost effective and don’t pose environmental justice concerns to our less affluent residents.
Dr. David Dow
East Falmouth, Ma.