The Section 208 Water Quality Plan

Due to larger than average participation, our Infrastructure Committee meeting was held at the Cape Cod Commission in October, where Paul Niedzwiecki, the Executive Director, presented an overview of the Commission’s drafted Section 208 Water Quality Plan (208 is a section of the Clean Water Act).

Cape Cod has 105 watersheds. Fifty-seven of those are embankment watersheds, where the water flows into estuaries or bays. Most watersheds cross borders, making management a regional issue.

The protection of our drinking water is the primary concern of the Cape. A population growth equal to 4% percent of the Commonwealth’s citizens has resulted in 20% of the state’s Title Five systems. We have six million visitors in a four month window.

When the country was looking at water pollution in the 1970s, it was toxic chemicals coming out of pipes. To be sure they didn’t miss anything in the Clean Water Act, congress defined everything else as a non-point source. As a result, we’re taking tools that were developed for point source pollution, and wedging them to fit into a non-point source plan.

The Commission was directed to update the plan with a focus on 21st century problems. They are looking at issues locally, seeking out diverse technologies and multiple solutions. They want a watershed-based plan with high stakeholder engagement, adaptive management, pilot projects and progress in monitoring.

Shellfish and permeable reactive barriers are two examples of diverse technologies. When and if they use new strategies which are estimated to remove a certain amount of nitrogen, monitoring will be in place to make sure the solution is on target.

The Commission has had to coordinate with Mass Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and will need approval from both agencies on the 208 plan when it is completed. The Commission reports that both agencies have been extraordinarily cooperative.

It is not the Commission’s desire to stop a town from planning if they already have a plan they’re working on. Rather, they hope to maximize benefits of previous town plans, supporting and expediting targeted watershed solutions under existing plans.

The Commission began the process with stakeholder engagement: meeting on goals, work plans, roles, affordability and pricing in public meetings. They met in July through December of 2013.

In January, the Commission reviewed the work of stakeholder groups before moving into subregional working groups, which met on scenario planning, regulatory, legal and institutional issues, and implementation issues. The plan was due in August, 2014.

Data for the plan includes things like a USGS map time of travel, which shows how long it takes wastewater to reach the water source. If they sewer in places where it takes 10 years or less, it’s like flipping a switch, they say. But they wanted to move beyond just sewers, so they looked at all technologies in terms of prevention, reductions and remediation (removing pollutants at the source). A technology matrix is available for download on the Commission’s website, under the Tools tab.

They also have an adaptive management graph, which shows selected scenarios in two groups: alternative technologies and traditional technologies. This gives them a chance to monitor how the strategies are working, and allows towns to plan financially. To the extent that they are removing nitrogen, communities should get credit for the strategies they have implemented.

The Commission is also working on regulatory reform, as many of the water quality regulations no longer apply.

If the state’s management agencies (towns, and current districts like fire and water) do not accept the responsibility, the DEP appoints water pollution abatement districts. The way to preserve local control is to take local responsibility, before water pollution abatements are appointed. It also puts Cape Cod in position to become a water quality cluster for technology.

The 208 Plan is the biggest capital plan Cape Cod has ever seen. There are other projects the Cape will need to face in the future (e.g. Dig Once) that will be easier once this regional infrastructure is in place.

For more information on the 208 Plan, including the most recent Draft update, please visit the Cape Cod Commission’s website.

The deadline for public comment on the 208 Plan is November 20th. There was a consensus that the Committee would prepare a comment to be submitted to the Council’s Board of Directors for potential submission prior the deadline for public comment.

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