Plan to Address Cape’s Water-Quality Issues Awaits OK

By ecoRI News staff

In support of a significant Cape Cod water-quality initiative, Gov. Charlie Baker has certified a plan, developed by the Cape Cod Commission (CCC), aimed at protecting and restoring Cape Cod’s waters.

In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Baker certified the Water Quality Management Plan for Cape Cod, also known as the “208 Plan” — named for a section of the federal Clean Water Act — and has submitted it to EPA for review and approval by September.

Once approved, the plan will be implemented by the CCC and individual Cape Cod communities to address the problem of excessive amounts of nitrogen pollution, primarily from septic systems, discharged into the waters and estuaries on Cape Cod.

“Nitrogen pollution in Cape waters affects not only the natural resources, but the economy and quality of life,” Baker said. “The plan is designed to empower Cape Cod citizens and officials to design and develop solutions that work for their communities — rather than having solutions imposed on them by outside parties or the federal government.”

With state support, the CCC spent more than two years drafting the 208 Plan. It was written after an extensive public participation process that included numerous public meetings across the Cape and input from hundreds of residents, community officials and stakeholders, according to state officials.

The plan examines the causes of water-quality issues on Cape Cod and provides more options for communities to consider and new planning tools to use in making local decisions about potential solutions. Additionally, the plan: encourages communities to share systems to reduce costs; supports the potential use of enhanced septic technologies; and backs the use of natural solutions in areas near the water’s edge, such as wetlands, to help absorb nitrogen.

The plan recommends continued support through loans and other forms of assistance from the State Revolving Fund’s Clean Water Trust. The trust annually provides millions of dollars in low- or no-interest loans to communities that seek to build or upgrade wastewater treatment systems.

A key element of the 208 Plan will be the implementation of the Cape Cod Water Quality Monitoring Initiative, which will involve four years of extensive water testing at stations situated along Cape Cod Bay, Buzzards Bay and Nantucket Sound. This initiative will be funded by $250,000 a year allocated over four years by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and will be equally matched by funds appropriated by Barnstable County.

“This 208 Plan reflects a significant effort to address a serious environmental problem on the Cape,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said.

The 208 Plan must receive final approval by EPA Region 1 before its recommendations can be implemented by the Cape Cod Commission and Cape communities.