Friday, June 20, 2014
Now we see how we can restore our watersheds

We’ve taken a giant step toward solving the most serious environmental problem facing our communities; how best to clean up our bays and ponds, reversing decades of pollution with a series of regional initiatives that we can support, and afford.

In government-ese, it’s called the “208 Wastewater Management Plan.” I think of it as a blueprint, watershed by watershed, for restoring our beautiful Cape to a place of sparkling water, and marine health.

Kudos to the Cape Cod Commission for their remarkable work on this plan. In January we challenged them and also tried to support them with state funding to make this blueprint a reality. They delivered.

Kudos also to literally hundreds of citizen activists and concerned citizens who participated in dialogue informing this plan. With their help, neighborhood by neighborhood, watershed by watershed, it became clear that one size cannot fit all, and one tactic cannot suit all. For every place where we may need a centralized treatment system, there are a score of places where we do not. Smart, green alternatives are built into the fabric of this plan. And by accomplishing this we not only improve our prospects for success; we reduce the cost to taxpayers for doing what we all know needs to be done.

Aquifers, bays, and ponds do not abide by town boundaries. Neither does pollution. And so this plan draws us together with naturally defined lines rather than political lines. This is its greatest strength, and this is why it must succeed.

Barnstable knows this very well. On one side, we have Lewis Bay, which we share with Yarmouth. On the other side, we have Popponesset Bay, which we share with Mashpee. We are united by Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay, united also by our rivers, ponds and lakes. In some ways we are the poster town for why this plan is necessary, and essential.

One of the great things about this work is its granular nature; it dives into our communities and watersheds, zip code by zip code, cul de sac by cul de sac. And so it’s fascinating to explore the thinking and research it applies to every neighborhood. But stepping back, here are some essential elements of a plan that is 6,000 pages of background, analysis, and specific steps broken into timelines and costs:

The peninsula is divided into 57 major embayments.

Each embayment has its own treatment approach, with the entire Cape divided into three key regions.

Public process and well as scientific study and execution are detailed in exacting timelines with specific goals and signposts every step of the way.

In every case, the structure is built to try to keep costs as low as possible, and make sure that alternative, low-tech approaches get a full, fair shot at working.

Thus far, the great bulk of the work is focused on our embayments and nitrogen removal, with the understanding that we must also bring our freshwater systems into the mix, where phosphorous is our nemesis.

I’d urge you to visit the Commission’s website and, almost literally, get your hands dirty and wet by handling this bulky, dense, ambitious plan. It’s tough reading at times, but it’s a dramatic breakthrough. It’s also not cast in stone. Take a visit, offer more feedback, and together we can make great work even better: