Cape Cod’s water quality continues to decline, watch group says

The Association to Preserve Cape Cod has released its third annual State of the Water Report, which assesses the water quality in Cape Town’s ponds and lakes, bays and drinking water supplies.

What he found is not surprising: continued deterioration in the quality of seawater and freshwater, as well as problems with two municipal drinking water systems.

The report noted that, for the first time, none of the 21 marine bays and estuaries monitored by the APCC along the southern shore of Cape Town had acceptable water quality. For the Cape as a whole, only six of the 47 bays and estuaries were rated as having acceptable water quality, while 41, or 87%, were rated as unacceptable. Last year’s report had 38 received a fail rating, or 79%, and in the 2019 report, 68% failed.

Barnstable Harbor and Quivett Creek on the Brewster-Dennis line were recently identified in the report as having unacceptable water quality.

“Reason to be optimistic”

“Things are worse, from an objective measurement standpoint,” said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the APCC. “But, with the significant increase (planning, financing and construction) of municipal treatment plants, there is reason to be optimistic that if there are residual contaminants (in groundwater) … steps are taken to solve the problem.”

Gottlieb and his organization have urged municipalities to leverage the billion dollars of the $ 1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill that will go into the state revolving fund managed by the Massachusetts Cleanwater Trust and the Department of Environmental Protection. This money will be made available over the next five years and the federal government requires that 49% of the money go to loan cancellations and 51% to loans for drinking water and sanitation projects.

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The state tends to place those federal dollars in bond markets and uses the proceeds to fund projects, APCC wrote in a recent letter to Cape Town cities urging them to have projects ready to take advantage of the new federal money.

There is already a heavy load of contaminants from septic systems – this is how over 80% of Cape Town’s properties treat their wastewater – which is already in groundwater and will not be addressed by the new plans. treatment. Septic waste makes a slow but steady march towards the sea and freshwater ponds and lakes. It also takes years to get approval and funding for the sewage cleaning projects, which are by far the costliest municipal projects ever undertaken in all of Cape Town’s fire towns and districts, and their implementation. complete will take decades.

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Wastewater treatment projects in at least a decade

Cape Town could be a decade or more away from the sweet spot where multibillion-dollar municipal efforts to clean up wastewater using new and existing treatment plants, sewers and other technologies and strategies are implemented. The systems are designed to remove nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from the waste stream that contaminate the region’s groundwater supplies and ultimately result in oxygen-starved water bodies with algal growth. uncontrollable. Stormwater runoff and lawn fertilizers also contribute nutrients.

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The APCC report was based on data from water sampling and monitoring by its researchers and volunteers as well as county, municipal and state organizations. The water quality data is compared to various water quality standards to produce a rating of acceptable or unacceptable.

The APCC monitors freshwater quality in 109 Cape Town ponds through its Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program. This year, 38 ponds (35%) were classified as unacceptable. The number of ponds tested has increased each year, but the percentage of failures has remained stable at around one-third of the ponds tested.

Barnstable Harbor was recently identified in a report from the Association to Preserve Cape Cod as having unacceptable water quality.

Gottlieb noted that only 10% of Cape Town’s 996 ponds and lakes are sampled and monitored, although the majority appear to be vulnerable to nutrient contamination and the effects of climate change.

“One consistent element affecting them all is warming,” he said.

Concerns about rising surface temperatures in ponds

A 2018 study of Cape Cod National Seashore ponds by researchers from the National Park Service showed two decades of rising surface water temperatures. The report found that in the majority of the ponds studied, the layers determined by temperature and water density that occur in summer strengthened over time.

Known as thermoclines, these layers inhibit the mixing of oxygen from the surface to the lower layers, which then become starved of oxygen and can kill marine life and vegetation.

Gottlieb noted that these conditions promote the chemical exchange of phosphorus in water that would otherwise be trapped in decaying leaves and other organic material in bottom sediments. Along with phosphorus from lawn fertilizers and septic effluent, this natural source can promote the growth of algae, especially cyanobacteria, an algae that produces toxins that are harmful to animals and humans.

Gottlieb asked county officials to fund a Cape Cod Commission study which he said would help develop a model to assess the majority of Cape ponds based on whether they were receiving nutrients from natural sources like leaf litter. decaying or human sources such as septic tanks. and runoff – or a combination of the two.

“The study would help us characterize those that are driven by external and internal loads and suggest to management how to resolve them,” Gottlieb said.

Kristy Senatori, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, said the commission would soon release an update to the 2003 Cape Cod Pond and Lake Atlas. She said they were engaged. in the collection and planning of scientific information at a level comparable to the regional wastewater plan 208 which mainly focused on marine water bodies. Senatori said his freshwater initiative is expected to be completed within 12 to 15 months.

“We have seen the degradation of freshwater bodies and this (APCC State of the Waters) report supports that,” Senatori said.

Last year’s APCC report on municipal drinking water systems marked a departure from universally excellent ratings for Cape Town water providers in previous water quality reports. Gottlieb said the downgrading to “good” from “excellent” at some wells at Yarmouth, Barnstable, Sandwich and Bourne, and a boil order at Wellfleet, reflected correctable maintenance infrastructure issues and not the water from source.

But, said Gottlieb, the next state of the water report will include an assessment of the impact of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances) on drinking water supplies. Last year was the first year the state required public drinking water systems to test PFAS, which form nearly unbreakable chemical bonds and are resistant to heat and water.

PFAS chemicals have been linked to testicular, kidney and other cancers, liver damage, high cholesterol, reduced vaccine effectiveness, and a host of other diseases. They are used in clothing, food packaging, kitchen utensils, adhesives, upholstery finishes and especially in fire-fighting foams whose use in airports and firefighting academies. fire led to the contamination of groundwater.

Chatham, Mashpee, Barnstable and other cities have already tested and found PFAS. Some are traced to known point sources like airports, Cape Cod Joint Base and the now closed Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy, but others, like Chatham, have yet to identify a source.

“We suspect there are more (cities with PFAS issues),” Gottlieb said.

Contact Doug Fraser at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @DougFraserCCT.

About Gertrude H. Kerr

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