State of the Waters: Cape Cod Report

A multi-year project, State of the Waters launched in 2019. This website is the place to find the answer to,    “How healthy are Cape Cod’s waters?”

The State of the Waters: Cape Cod is an assessment of the Cape’s water quality, designed to help you understand the water quality problems that we face and the actions that are needed to address these problems. The Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) launched this project in 2019 in order to answer the question: “How healthy are Cape Cod’s waters?” This website is the place to find out about the Cape’s water quality and what can be done to address water pollution and achieve clean water.

For this multi-year project, APCC collected existing data on water quality on Cape Cod for the purpose of determining the health of Cape Cod’s waters. APCC evaluated water quality in coastal waters (saltwater), freshwater ponds and lakes, and public drinking water supplies. APCC used existing methods to score water quality and used the scores to distinguish between degraded surface waters where immediate action is needed to improve water quality vs. surface waters with acceptable quality where ongoing protection is needed to avoid any decline in quality. The results are summarized in the 2020 Water Health Report. To guide public action, APCC prepared a Water Action Plan that contains recommendations for changes in policies, actions, and regulations to improve and protect our waters.

Why this project is needed

APCC is well-positioned to provide this Cape-wide assessment of our water quality. Since our inception in 1968, APCC has worked with numerous partners to protect and improve the Cape’s water resources and aquatic habitat through policy, science, and education. APCC’s successes include:

  • Designation of Cape Cod’s groundwater as a sole source aquifer to protect our drinking water;
  • Designation of the ocean waters around Cape Cod as state ocean sanctuaries;
  • Designation of Stellwagen Bank as a National Marine Sanctuary;
  • Passage of the Cape Cod Land Bank Act to preserve open space;
  • Creation of the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative to address water pollution due to wastewater;
  • Passage of the Cape Cod Commission Act to create a regional planning agency and promote regional planning;
  • Designation of the ocean waters surrounding Cape Cod as a No Discharge Area for boat sewage;
  • Coordination of Congressional approval and funding of the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project, a 10-year Cape-wide restoration program to restore impaired salt marsh and fish runs and shellfish beds;
  • Assistance to towns on efforts to restore salt marsh and fish runs and remediate stormwater runoff throughout the Cape;
  • Coordination of a regional stormwater partnership;
  • Establishment of programs to monitor salt marsh, herring runs and harmful cyanobacteria blooms;
  • Evaluation of the effect of future sea level rise on the Cape’s aquifer; and
  • Passage of legislation creating and funding the Cape and Islands Water Protection Trust Fund.

APCC recognized that while the Cape’s waters are well-studied and pollution issues are well-documented, this wealth of information on water quality is usually buried in reports, studies and websites and is not readily available in one place. More importantly, the data are often not translated into clear, easily understood results. Too often, reports that contain gold nuggets of information are mired in complex terminology understood only by experts.


APCC’s first annual State of the Waters: Cape Cod is intended to plainly and clearly inform the public about the conditions of our waters. APCC collected water quality data from credible sources and translated the data into clear, easily understood terms to identify water quality problems that need to be addressed. Our goals are to: 1) Help people to understand the health of our waters and the need to protect and improve water quality; 2) Identify the actions needed to protect and improve water quality; and 3) Motivate public action to achieve clean water.


APCC has produced the following products for the State of the Waters, available through this website:

  • Interactive maps of water quality scores and grades for coastal embayments, ponds, and drinking water supplies;
  • Information on how water quality data were evaluated, scored and graded;
  • 2020 Water Health Report summarizing findings;
  • Water Action Plan containing recommendations for actions to protect and improve water quality;
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs); and
  • References and sources of information.

Partners and Collaboration

Collaboration with partners is an essential feature of the State of the Waters: Cape Cod, as the project involves a gathering-in and summation of water quality data from many organizations. Partners also provide advice, support, funding, information, and networking.

Advisory Committee: To help advise this project, APCC convened an Advisory Committee composed of experts in Cape Cod’s water pollution issues, water monitoring, drinking water, aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, natural resource management and municipal management. Members represent local, regional and state agencies, environmental non-profit organizations, and partnerships. Advisory Committee members provide advice, guidance, and data used in this project.

Sources of data: For this project, APCC relies upon water quality data collected by other organizations.

Funding: APCC received funding for this project from a number of sources. They include the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET), an important supporter of environmental projects and funded by the sale of environmental license plates through the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Additional funding was provided by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program (SNEP) grant to the Cape Cod Commission, the Friendship Fund, the Cape Cod 5 Foundation, and APCC dues and donations.

Massachusetts Environmental Trust

About APCC

The Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) is a 501(c)3 environmental non-profit organization founded in 1968 to promote policies and programs that foster preservation of Cape Cod’s natural resources. APCC is a Cape-wide organization with members representing all 15 towns on the Cape. Our goals include protection of water and wetlands; preservation of open space; promotion of responsible, planned growth; and the achievement of an environmental ethic. To achieve these goals, we provide technical assistance, outreach, advocacy, science-based policies and partnership-building. APCC has emerged as the Cape’s environmental leader, earning a reputation for effective policies and actions to protect our precious natural resources (