Monument Beach Boat Ramp

The dock at the Monument Beach boat ramp stretches into Phinney’s Harbor.

A recent workshop detailed the full extent of the problems facing the Town of Bourne with regard to degradation of the town’s watersheds. The public-invited session exposed the overabundance of nitrogen that is severely impacting the quality of water and its marine life in Bourne.

The presentation took place in the media library at Bourne High School last Thursday, December 2. The session was conducted by Kate Rossa and Helen Gordon, representatives of Environmental Partners, the engineering firm hired by the town to develop a Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan.

The wastewater management plan, Ms. Rossa said, will be established in three phases over three years. Plan development is currently in Phase 1, which involves establishing current and future wastewater needs, she said.

Phase 2, to take place next year, will be a breakdown and evaluation of alternatives that make sense for Bourne. A combination of technologies and types of technologies will be explored, she said. Phase 3 in 2023 will involve development of a recommended plan and bringing it forward for regulatory review, she said.

Ms. Rossa said the goal of the wastewater management plan is to protect water quality in Bourne, primarily by addressing the issue of nitrogen loading in Bourne’s watersheds. She noted that Bourne has a total of eight watersheds, among them Phinney’s Harbor, Megansett-Squeteague Harbor, Buttermilk Bay, Pocasset River and Pocasset Harbor.

Wild’s River and Rand’s Canal are two other watersheds that pass through Bourne, Ms. Rossa said. They are located primarily in Falmouth, so they are not being considered as part of Bourne’s wastewater management plan, she said. Bourne will collaborate with Falmouth on any future wastewater management effort, she said.

Ms. Rossa pointed out that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, as part of its Massachusetts Estuary Project, determines daily limits on how much nitrogen can be released into individual watersheds. She said there are currently 7,000 septic systems in Bourne, the majority of which are conventional Title 5 systems that do not treat for nitrogen.

MassDEP has established a total maximum daily limit, or TMDL, for nitrogen release into Phinney’s Harbor of 15,500 pounds per year. Using data from several sources, Ms. Rossa said, including the Bourne Health Department, it has been determined that nitrogen loading into Phinney’s Harbor amounts to 23,600 pounds per year.

A similar situation occurs in Megansett-Squeteague Harbor, Ms. Rossa said. MassDEP has set a TMDL there at 13,500 pounds of nitrogen per year. Data shows an existing release of 16,800 pounds per year, she said.

The remaining watersheds are awaiting final TMDLs from MassDEP, she said. Meeting the daily limit for Phinney’s Harbor alone would require upgrading or removing 600 to 650 conventional septic systems, she said. For Megansett-Squeteague Harbor, 200 to 250 conventional septic systems would have to be removed or converted to a newer innovative/alternative septic system.

Ms. Rossa pointed out that Bourne is home to more than 1,000 acres of wetlands as well as 740 acres of coastal beaches and dunes. Protecting those resources, she said, informs the need to install more efficient septic systems.

There is documented evidence on both closures and degradation of both freshwater and saltwater water bodies in Bourne, she said. Eel Pond has one of the lower scores on a scale established by the Buzzards Bay Coalition, chiefly because of the decline in eelgrass there.

“There been a clear decline in eelgrass between 2001 and 2015,” she said. “That is a major indicator to degradation in water quality.”

The benefits of eelgrass include protection and stabilization of coastlines, mitigation of climate change through absorption of carbon dioxide, improved water quality through prevention of algal blooms, and nurturing of fish and birds.

In the coming year, the focus will be on alternative strategies, Ms. Rossa said. That will include looking at onsite systems, such as conventional Title 5, innovative/alternative and cluster systems with several homes sharing a leach field.

Also explored in the coming year will be stormwater controls such as wetlands purposely constructed to mitigate the flow of nitrogen into watersheds. There are also permeable reactive barriers, she said, that can trap nitrogen and release it into the air as opposed to keeping it in the water where it will harm marine life.

Increased aquaculture can also be explored, she said.

The workshop broke off into individual groups that focused attention on different sections of town and reported their findings to the full group. Many people expressed opposition to the proposed installation of an outfall pipe from the wastewater treatment facility in Wareham at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Other shared thoughts included investigating grants that will help homeowners pay for upgrading their septic systems, tax rebates for residents who do upgrade and updating town policies to automatically trigger a Title 5 inspection when a home is sold to prevent the perpetual use of an outdated septic system.

Each group agreed that any solutions considered have to be in the best interest of the town, as a whole, and not simply for the good of any individual village.

Residents were encouraged to offer any additional thoughts or comments to Environmental Partners at Acting Town Administrator Glenn D. Cannon also said the town’s website has a page dedicated to the comprehensive wastewater management plan where information can be ascertained and comments left.

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