A plan to clean up nitrogen loading in the Agawam River through greater use of wastewater discharge into the Cape Cod Canal has been greeted with skepticism in Bourne. The uncertainty that has been expressed stems largely from test results and studies associated with the project not being readily available.
That was the sentiment expressed during a remote meeting of the board of sewer commissioners on December 22. Members concurred that they need access to the data that the Buzzards Bay Coalition has cited as proof that an outfall pipe into the canal is an optimal way to clean the Upper Cape’s waters and estuaries.
That method of wastewater discharge was part of a presentation made by Korrin Peterson, senior attorney with the Buzzards Bay Coalition, to the sewer commissioners in November. Ms. Petersen explained that the outfall pipe would run from Wareham’s wastewater treatment facility to Massachusetts Maritime Academy and then would be sent directly into the canal.
Ms. Peterson told the commission that discharge into the canal would restore fisheries habitats in waterways such as the Agawam River, the Wareham River, Buttermilk Bay and Little Buttermilk Bay, Sippican Harbor, Aucoot Cove and the Weweantic River. Studies, she said, show that 90,000 pounds of nitrogen a year could be removed from those bodies of water.
Ms. Peterson cited a number of different studies of the canal, notably a hydrodynamic model done by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The study determined that the daily water flow through the canal is between 56 and 80 billion gallons per day.
A discharge of 10 million gallons of wastewater per day, Ms. Peterson said, would result in an increase of nitrogen of 0.007 milligrams per liter.
That demand for the scientific studies was first voiced by Wastewater Facility Design and Building Committee chairwoman Mary Jane Mastrangelo. A search for the studies cited by Ms. Peterson has been largely unsuccessful, Ms. Mastrangelo said.
“The presentation that was made to the board of sewer commissioners is ‘we’ve done this and we’ve done this study and we’ve done that study,’” Ms. Mastrangelo said. “Well, where are these studies? I can’t find them, and I don’t know who ‘we’ is.”
Ms. Mastrangelo added that, while sending treated wastewater into the ocean is considered the least expensive alternative, an analysis should be done of how to reclaim water to the impaired waterways. Just sending wastewater into the ocean does nothing to restore it to the aquifer, she said.
“So we really need some cost-benefit analysis on higher levels of treatment and injection wells going back to the aquifer,” she said.
Selectman Peter J. Meier, who lives in Taylor Point—close to Mass Maritime and where the outfall pipe would be located—has expressed a number of reservations about the coalition’s plan, including the group’s decision not to consider other towns for the pipe, such as Marion. Mr. Meier has also argued that Taylor Point has a number of shellfish beds, and the wastewater flow has the potential to jeopardize the livelihood of some commercial shellfishermen.
Mr. Meier told the commissioners that he had personally received an email from Mark Rasmussen, president of the Buzzards Bay Coalition. The message invited Mr. Meier to be part of a Zoom meeting at which many of his reservations and questions could be addressed.
“From an environmental perspective, the project would bring major benefits to water quality and marine habitats,” Mr. Rasmussen said in his letter. “If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be involved, never mind so enthusiastic about it. But we’ve been working on it for a while now, and I want to get you—as a selectman and a MMA neighbor—all of the information we have.”
Mr. Meier asked if any other commissioners wanted to join him on the call or if the board felt a public hearing was in order. Members concurred that a presentation to the general public would be the preferred approach. Member Judith M. Froman said she wanted more information about similar situations elsewhere with respect to discharging treated wastewater.
“What does that do to the environment that’s around in the area?” she asked. “Since our town is very much engrossed with the ocean and the blue economy, we need to have these answers.”
Ms. Froman added that “having blind faith in someone saying ‘this is good science’ doesn’t work for me.”
Board chairman James L. Potter agreed. Mr. Potter pointed out that, with the pipe running out to the MMA campus, Bourne would be considered a host community. The Town of Bourne, he said, needs to be comfortable with the results of any and all discussions relative to the project.
“I think it would really make sense for it to be our whole board,” Mr. Potter said, “if there’s very important information with the science.”
Mr. Potter said he would reach out to the coalition about participating in another public meeting. Board members agreed that another presentation would not be necessary and a question-and-answer session would suffice. Mr. Potter also invited any scientists living in the area to take part in the meeting and share their expertise with the board.