the Massachusetts Estuaries Project

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Waterline Newsletter Article on the The Estuaries Project: Southeastern Massachusetts Embayments Restoration

The Estuaries Project: Southeastern Massachusetts Embayments Restoration 
A DEP/UMASS Collaborative Effort

The Massachusetts DEP and the UMASS/Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) will be stepping up a collaborative project with Coastal Zone Management, the Cape Cod Commission and several municipalities to classify the nitrogen sensitivity of southeastern Massachusetts's coastal bays and estuaries. SMAST technical experts will work with DEP to evaluate the nitrogen sensitivity through comprehensive water quality testing, quantitative TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) modeling, and preparation of technical reports allowing communities to consider how implementation of nitrogen management scenarios within watersheds will influence water quality in embayments.

Coastal embayments in Massachusetts, the eastern seaboard and coastal states of the U.S. are becoming nutrient enriched and are rapidly experiencing declines in ecological health. The primary cause of these eutrophication problems is an overabundance of nitrogen discharged within the watersheds of these water bodies. In Massachusetts the primary source of the contaminant nitrogen is wastewater. Storm water, leaching lawn fertilizers and discharges from agricultural land uses also contribute varying quantities of nitrogen.

These declines in ecological health can in advanced states result in loss of eel grass, fisheries habitat and spawning grounds, shell fish beds and all related recreational uses causing negative impacts on tourism, offshore marine ecology, local fishing and shell fishing interests and local tax bases.

Most municipalities in southeastern Massachusetts are exploring approaches to better managing sanitary wastewater. These municipalities are seeking guidance about how to assess the quality of an embayment and how to institute the land based changes necessary to control sources of nitrogen and restore impaired water quality conditions. DEP and SMAST are already involved in these nitrogen management planning studies but seek through this project to provide a more consistent, efficient way of generating the necessary water quality information, modeling efforts, technical guidance and remedial recommendations.

The collaborative effort is expected to result in the high quality efficiency intended with last years signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between UMASS and the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA). The projects geographic coverage includes 89 embayments along the Massachusetts coastline south of Duxbury inclusive of Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay and the Islands. It is anticipated that the evaluation of embayments, generation of TMDL reports and discussion of potential remedial options will be sequenced over a period of six years. TMDL reports are required for water bodies with impaired water quality and are used to guide community efforts to achieve appropriate water quality thresholds. Providing technical assistance to communities attempting to generate and implement remedial solutions will be the focus of DEP's Comprehensive Water Resource Planning process.

The Estuaries Project exemplifies the need for state and local authorities and stakeholders to work cooperatively to address water quality issues on a watershed-by-watershed basis. This Project will result in the generation of many technical, planning and policy guidance documents that will be transferable to problem solving for inland waters and that will assist DEP and communities establish the framework for effective watershed protection.

DEP is very proud to be a sponsor and participant in this proactive and cost-effective effort and will work diligently with contractors, communities and stakeholders to bring about improvements to water quality in these beautiful and important resources.