The Conservation Law Foundation announced a lawsuit Thursday, August 6, against Willowbend Country Club in Mashpee.
The lawsuit states the resort violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants that contribute to nitrogen pollution in Popponesset Bay.
A notice of intent to file suit sent to Willowbend by Ian Coghill, an attorney for CLF, details the alleged discharge of sewage from the country club’s wastewater system, the subsequent flow of effluent into Popponesset Bay and the ecological harm of the excessive nitrogen levels.
“Nitrogen pollution—including from the Willowbend Facility—has caused ‘degraded water quality, adverse impacts to ecosystems, and limits on the use of water resources’ in Popponesset Bay,” Mr. Coghill said in the notice, quoting an analysis by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters without a pollutant discharge permit. The CLF, a Boston-based nonprofit, is the driving force behind an earlier civil lawsuit that is compelling Mashpee and other Cape towns to clean their long-polluted estuaries.
Willowbend could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.
The notice from CLF states that Willowbend, an 805-bedroom community with various amenities, conveys sewage through a wastewater system that partially reduces nitrogen levels before discharging the effluent “within drainage” of the Quaker Run River, the Santuit River and Shoestring Bay—all of which are within the Popponesset Bay watershed.
Effluent then moves through the sandy soil to reach the groundwaters, where it is transported into the surface waters of the Popponesset Bay system, Mr. Coghill said in the notice.
“The vast majority of nitrogen within the Facility’s effluent reaches these surface waters,” Mr. Coghill said.
He states that the nitrogen from Willowbend contributes to the process of eutrophication in the coastal waters, causing concentrations of algae and aquatic plants that can reach densities that “overwhelm the natural ecosystem.”
“Eutrophic blooms can have severe crowding-out effects on the native aquatic ecosystem, and estuary systems are particularly sensitive to such effects,” he said.
The blooms also result in “large quantities of rotting organic matter” that “exhaust available supplies of dissolved oxygen in the water” as they decay, Mr. Coghill said in the notice. The lack of dissolved oxygen can kill fish and shellfish.
“In Popponesset Bay, nitrogen pollution from the [Willowbend] Facility has contributed to such algal blooms followed by extreme decreases in dissolved oxygen concentrations that threaten aquatic life and reduced species diversity,” Mr. Coghill said.
The notice states nitrogen pollution from Willowbend contributes to “unpleasant odors and scums from the blooms in the Popponesset Bay system” as well as “widespread losses in eelgrass.”
“The Facility’s pollutant discharges to the bays are continuous and ongoing,” Mr. Coghill said in the notice.
Nitrogen pollution is not a new subject in Mashpee. The Town of Mashpee has put together a Comprehensive Watershed Nitrogen Management Plan to address the issue and passed an article at Town Meeting in June to design a treatment plant and sewer system.
Also Thursday, August 6, the CFL announced a similar lawsuit against the Town of Barnstable, alleging a violation of the Clean Water Act related to nitrogen pollution in the Lewis Bay system.