The Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed regulations to restore nitrogen impaired estuaries in Westport as well as Cape Cod, the Islands and the Southcoast. There has been a lot …
The Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed regulations to restore nitrogen impaired estuaries in Westport as well as Cape Cod, the Islands and the Southcoast. There has been a lot of confusion and concern about the proposals and the Westport Board of Health will be submitting extensive comments to DEP.
However, we want to reassure Westport residents that, of all the affected Southcoast towns, our community has been very pro-active in addressing nitrogen pollution. So Westport is well positioned to apply for a watershed permit. That option will allow us to continue implementing a reasonable, flexible, long-term approach to reducing the nitrogen load in the Westport River watershed, instead of being subject to the universal 5-year septic upgrade requirement that folks have been hearing about.
First some background. Excess nitrogen pollution in coastal waters, like estuaries and embayments, causes problems such as harmful algal blooms, dead zones, and fish kills. It also increases contamination of the groundwater and, in a town like Westport where homeowners have on-site wells, this can put your drinking water at risk. A major source of nitrogen is from septic systems; particularly pre-1970 cesspools that don’t treat the sewage before it enters the groundwater. Other sources include agriculture, stormwater runoff, and lawn fertilizers.
The Westport River East Branch watershed is currently above its total maximum daily load or ‘TMDL’ for nitrogen, but the town has been taking steps to address the problem and has made good progress to date. For example, the Board of Health has a local regulation requiring new construction to use nitrogen reducing septic technology and targeting the most polluting cesspools to be upgraded to current Title 5 septic standards by 2026.
Under the proposed state regulations, DEP will first go through a public process where it would consider input from the community and other factors, before a particular watershed can be designated as a Nitrogen Sensitive Area. If the Westport River watershed is eventually designated by DEP, there are then two options to reduce the nitrogen load: Either the town develops a plan to reduce the nitrogen load by 75% within 20 years from its designation (the “watershed permit” option) OR ALL Title 5 septic systems within the watershed would have to be upgraded within 5 years of designation, by using the best available nitrogen reducing technology.
The Title 5 option is definitely scary and has been raising a lot of concerns, rightfully so. But it’s a no-brainer for Westport. We should choose the watershed permit and continue to implement the targeted nitrogen reduction strategies that we have already planned. That will get us to our clean water goals in a manageable way.
In any case, the Board of Health will keep residents informed about the progress we are making and the impact of any final DEP regulations. Feel free to contact our office if you have questions or participate in the DEP public information session January 18, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. at The Marketplace (second floor), UMass Dartmouth.
Tanja Ryden, Phil Weinberg and Donna Amaral
The signed are members of the Westport Board of Health