State of the Waters Action Plan

The most common threats to our water quality are:

  • Nutrient pollution from septic system wastewater and from fertilizers
  • Stormwater runoff containing roadside pollutants, including nutrients and bacteria
  • Contaminants of emerging concern such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, PFAS and industrial chemicals

Action is needed now, especially on the municipal level. Moving forward immediately on water quality restoration efforts that produce measurable results must be the first priority. Securing and using both the new (short term rental tax and Cape and Islands Water Protection Trust Fund) and traditional (State Revolving Fund and local debt) funding sources to pay for water quality restoration and for monitoring water resources is critical. The towns of Cape Cod must lead the effort on protecting and improving water quality. State agencies must be a partner in this process. Enhanced municipal, regional and state regulatory standards that increase protections of water resources are crucial.

Great progress has been made on developing the necessary understanding, scope and nature of estuarine water quality problems as well as the realistic and cost-effective management options.

Development of the Cape Cod Commission’s 208-water quality report was the turning point that enabled recent progress on implementation to begin. The 208 report identified, but did not address, the need for an equivalent level of assessment of the water quality of the ponds of Cape Cod. The expanded monitoring APCC has undertaken the last few years, and more fully reflected for the first time in this report’s current edition, underscores and makes plain the need for a Cape-wide assessment of, and strategy for the restoration of, freshwater pond water quality. The time is now, and APCC calls on the Commission to initiate a 208-scale effort for the freshwater ponds of Cape Cod.

And of course, public involvement is essential. Residents should support municipal investments in local water quality improvement projects. The participation of citizen groups and individuals are necessary to achieving local and regional water quality improvement goals. Be aware of your role in the health of Cape Cod’s water resources. Individual actions by homeowners and businesses—both by the actions you take on your property and by making sure your voice is heard in the local decision-making process—can make a difference in the protection of Cape Cod’s water resources.

Because the quality of groundwater directly affects the quality of the Cape’s coastal embayments, ponds and drinking water, many of the following recommendations in this action plan focus on groundwater protection and crosscut all three resource areas studied in the State of the Waters: Cape Cod report. Action at the municipal level is most impactful and this plan emphasizes municipal actions and the importance of local residents in forcing action at the town level.

Recommended Actions for Coastal Embayments

  • For Municipalities
    • Comprehensive Wastewater Management Planning:
      • Towns with plans that are consistent with the Cape Cod 208 Plan must begin to implement their long-term strategy for managing wastewater and improving water quality in the town’s watersheds.
      • Towns without a plan must make the development and adoption of a plan a municipal priority.
      • Towns whose plans include shared estuary watersheds should adopt intermunicipal agreements that establish nitrogen responsibility and cooperative wastewater management strategies. Obtaining a state-issued Watershed Permit will provide additional accountability and enforceability.
    • Dedicate at least 50 percent of short-term rental tax revenue to infrastructure investments that include wastewater infrastructure and use the revenue to fund appropriate programs.
    • Develop financing plans that take full advantage of zero percent loans from the State Revolving Fund (SRF) and the principle forgiveness offered by the Cape and Islands Water Protection Trust to support the water quality plan adopted by the community.
    • Expand monitoring of embayment restoration efforts to assess the effectiveness of management measures. Results should be used for adaptive management and course correction if needed.
    • Adopt local zoning bylaws and planning policies that encourage and facilitate future growth at greater densities in strategic locations where wastewater infrastructure can support additional development. Adopt local zoning bylaws, regulations and policies that direct growth away from sensitive watershed areas that do not have supportive wastewater infrastructure.
    • Prioritize water resources protection in municipal regulatory review. Establish consistency across town boards and commissions regarding municipal bylaws and regulations relating to water resource protection. For example, local planning boards, boards of health and conservation commissions should adopt the same regulations for requiring advanced denitrifying septic systems for development and redevelopment in nitrogen-sensitive watersheds.
    • Explore viable, alternative wastewater treatment strategies to augment municipal investments in wastewater infrastructure.
    • Stormwater planning and treatment:
      • Complete and implement stormwater plans (i.e., mapping, stormwater pollution prevention plan, bylaws, elimination of illicit discharges, prioritizing stormwater projects, funding maintenance) and include all roads that drain to wetlands and waters. Address both nutrients and bacteria.
      • Invest in stormwater remediation efforts in every road project going forward. Prioritize projects with the greatest water quality benefit. Adopt stormwater best management practices that include low impact development techniques.
      • Use the revised 208 Technologies Matrix that now includes stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) and their removal efficiencies for pollutants (including nutrients, bacteria and solids) to select BMPs for projects.
    • Maintain adequate natural vegetated buffer zones around roads and parking lots near water bodies to capture stormwater runoff.
    • Eliminate fertilizer and pesticide use on municipal properties. Establish fertilizer and pesticide reduction outreach programs for residents and businesses.
    • Support ecological restoration programs and projects that will improve water quality and habitat.
    • Incorporate climate change into pond monitoring, planning and protection.
  • For Homeowners/Business Owners
    • Organize locally and demand action by town officials to protect and restore coastal embayments.
    • At town meetings and the ballot box, support municipal investments in wastewater infrastructure and the use of viable, alternative wastewater treatment strategies to augment the development of wastewater infrastructure.
    • Don’t dump contaminants down house drains. Household chemicals, paints, thinners, solvents, pharmaceuticals and other hazardous materials can leach into groundwater and pollute water bodies. Properly dispose of hazardous wastes during designated collection days at local transfer stations.
    • Eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides on your property. Reduce, or better yet, eliminate turf grass lawns and replace with native plantings and ground cover.
    • Encourage your town, local school and golf courses to reduce or eliminate fertilizer and pesticide use.
    • For coastal waterfront properties, establish protective buffers of native vegetation at least 100 feet deep along shorelines to reduce the potential for stormwater runoff.
    • Work to achieve zero stormwater runoff from your property. Direct roof runoff from downspouts away from paved areas. Install rain gardens or rain barrels to collect water. Maximize permeable areas and native plantings that help absorb stormwater and prevent water runoff to roads.
    • Work with your neighborhood association to address stormwater problems and ensure proper maintenance of stormwater controls on private roads, especially where stormwater directly discharges into embayments.
    • Help your town properly maintain stormwater systems and report problems, remove debris and litter around storm drains. Never dump oil or other contaminants down storm drains.
    • Encourage your town to use more pervious surfaces instead of pavement and to allow roadside vegetation to grow instead of mowing so it can filter stormwater pollutants.
    • Be a responsible boater. Never dump trash or debris overboard. Discharge of any boat sewage, whether treated or not, is prohibited by federal and state law in coastal waters; use designated pump out facilities.
    • If using an on-site septic system, maintain it properly by having it pumped regularly—every three years is recommended. Consider an advanced wastewater treatment system to treat nutrients.
  • For State Government
    • Utilize and support watershed permitting for municipalities that promotes and addresses alternative technologies for wastewater treatment, requires sewering if alternatives do not work, and that also assures enforceability.
    • Prioritize investments in stormwater control for state roads that improve water quality by removing nutrients as well as bacteria when allocating funding for state road infrastructure projects.
    • Provide timely reporting on the state’s list of impaired waters.
    • Support monitoring of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in marine and freshwater environments and address causes of HABs using ecologically safe methods.
    • Provide additional state funding to the county and municipalities for water quality improvement projects and for monitoring programs.
    • Support ecological restoration programs and projects that will improve water quality and habitat.
  • For Regional Government
    • Reinvest resources to focus on regional water quality efforts.
    • Invest in monitoring and regional data collection and the dissemination of collected data.
    • Provide evaluation of efficacy of alternative Title 5 systems.
    • Fund and support the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative.
    • Eliminate interest charges on community septic management financing to provide support to those in need of assistance upgrading or connecting to sewers.
    • Support tighter regulation of development in areas not serviced by sewer.
    • Support ecological restoration programs and projects that will improve water quality and habitat.

Recommended Actions for Ponds

  • For Municipalities:
    • Make protection of ponds and restoration of pond water quality a priority. Initiate detailed assessments of water quality for every pond, including promoting and supporting citizen water quality monitoring projects for ponds, including monitoring for cyanobacteria blooms.
    • Establish, in partnership with APCC or individually, a cyano monitoring program and companion public notice protocol that ensures the public is advised of the presence of cyano blooms and provided with real-time guidance on the need to restrict contact with ponds with high cyano levels.
    • Adopt local bylaws and regulations that increase protections of ponds. Require placement of septic systems at least 300 feet back from the edge of a pond when located on the up-gradient side of groundwater flow toward a pond. Develop homeowner financial assistance programs for upgrading septic systems to comply with updated pond-front septic regulations.
    • Invest in stormwater remediation efforts around ponds. Adopt stormwater best management practices that include low impact development (LID) techniques. Conduct routine street sweeping and catch basin cleaning to help prevent sediments and contaminants from reaching water bodies through stormwater. Maintain up-to-date GIS mapping and ground-truthing of storm drain locations. Maintain adequate natural vegetated buffer zones around roads and parking lots near ponds to capture stormwater. Conduct the comprehensive stormwater management and implementation described above in the section for coastal embayments.
    • Establish consistency across town boards and commissions regarding municipal regulations and bylaws relating to water resource protection. For example, local planning boards, boards of health and conservation commissions should adopt consistent language for septic system technologies and siting in proximity to ponds.
    • Promote development and testing of non-traditional, alternative wastewater treatment for single and shared systems.
    • Weigh the pros and cons of pond management options such as alum treatment, macrophyte (vegetation) removal, or dredging to improve a pond’s water quality. Each pond is unique, therefore methods to address water quality issues should be carefully considered.
    • Invest in open space acquisitions of pond-front property as well as property within pond watersheds.
    • Adopt site plan review standards that take topography into account. Require appropriate setbacks from water bodies and minimize impervious surfaces.
    • Incorporate climate change into pond monitoring, planning and protection.
    • Support ecological restoration programs and projects that will improve water quality and habitat.
    • Sponsor pond education and stewardship programs.
  • For Homeowners/Business Owners:
    • Organize locally and demand action by town officials to restore and protect ponds.
    • At town meeting and the ballot box, support municipal investments to restore and protect pond water quality.
    • Support the adoption of local bylaws and regulations that increase protections of ponds.
    • Upgrade septic system so that it is at least 300 feet back from the edge of a pond when located on the upgradient side of groundwater flow toward a pond.
    • Eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides on your property.
    • Reduce, or better yet, eliminate turf grass lawns and replace with native plantings and ground cover.
    • Encourage your town, local schools and golf courses to reduce or eliminate fertilizer and pesticide use.
    • Don’t dump contaminants down house drains. Household chemicals, paints, thinners, solvents, pharmaceuticals and other hazardous materials can leach into groundwater and pollute water bodies. Properly dispose of hazardous wastes during designated collection days at local transfer stations.
    • Work to achieve zero stormwater runoff from your property. Direct roof runoff from downspouts away from paved areas. Install rain gardens or rain barrels to collect water. Maximize permeable areas and native plantings that help absorb stormwater and prevent water runoff to roads.
    • Establish protective vegetative buffers of native vegetation at least 100 feet wide along pond shorelines to reduce the potential for stormwater runoff to a pond.
    • Support town and local land trust open space acquisitions of property with pond frontage or within pond watersheds.
    • Help organize and participate in citizen water quality monitoring projects for area ponds, including monitoring for cyanobacteria blooms.
    • For homeowners, become active in your local pond association, or if there isn’t one for your pond, start one.
    • Work with your neighborhood association to address stormwater problems and ensure proper maintenance of stormwater controls on private roads, especially where stormwater directly discharges into ponds.
    • Help your town properly maintain stormwater systems and report problems, remove debris and litter around storm drains. Never dump oil or other contaminants down storm drains.
    • Encourage your town to use more pervious surfaces in place of pavement and to allow roadside vegetation to grow instead of mowing it so it can filter pollutants from stormwater.
    • Pick up after pets and deposit waste in the trash. Pet waste can introduce harmful bacteria and other pathogens into ponds.
    • Do not wash cars on paved driveways or parking lots, which allows oil, fuel and soap to make their way into ponds.
    • Be a responsible boater. Never dump trash or debris overboard.
    • Attend education workshops to learn more about pond issues and how you and your community can protect ponds.
    • If using an on-site septic system, maintain it properly by having it pumped regularly—every three years is recommended. Consider an advanced wastewater treatment system to treat nutrients.
  • For State Government
    • Increase funding to municipalities and nonprofits for pond restoration, management and monitoring initiatives. Increase funding to state agencies—e.g., the Department of Conservation and Recreation—for management of ponds under state control.
    • Develop better protocols for monitoring of, and responding quickly to, toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms that could impact public health and ecosystems. Work with municipalities and environmental nonprofits to develop standardized monitoring and reporting programs.
    • Establish Total Daily Maximum Loads (TMDL) for phosphorus for high priority Cape Cod ponds.
    • Support ecological restoration programs and projects that will improve water quality and habitat.
    • Provide timely reporting on the state’s list of impaired waters.
    • Incorporate climate change into pond monitoring, planning and protection.
  • For Regional Government
    • Update the Cape Cod 208 Plan to include a comprehensive focus on pond water quality similar to the county’s focus on the nutrient problem in Cape Cod embayments.
    • Current pond monitoring protocols (e.g., PALS) and data are insufficient for producing reliable determinations of pond health. Invest in the development of a much more rigorous and expanded pond monitoring program, which should include information sharing on collected data.
    • Support ecological restoration programs and projects that will improve water quality and habitat.
    • Incorporate climate change into pond monitoring, planning and protection.

Recommended Actions for Drinking Water Supplies

  • For Municipalities
    • Make protection of water supply sources a municipal priority.
    • Adopt local bylaws and regulations that increase protection of public water supplies, such as natural resource protection zoning, restriction of uses that involve hazardous materials storage or use, standards for construction projects, and waste disposal procedures.
    • Acquire permanently protected open space in public water supply areas to protect water quality.
    • Expand public water supply sampling to include testing for unregulated contaminants of emerging concern that are more likely to be present in the region, including testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
    • Conduct or update the town’s source water assessment and protection (SWAP) plan to rate the susceptibility of public drinking water supplies compared to the collected inventory of likely contamination threats, such as gas stations, landfills and other uses. Make the assessment available to the public on the town’s website. Adopt measures to address specific risks with the water supply area.
    • Promote water conservation and limited outdoor watering to protect source water and as a response to climate change.
    • Encourage and promote homeowners and businesses to use native species in landscaping and to reduce or eliminate lawns to reduce use of fertilizers, pesticides and water. Do the same for municipal properties such as offices, public parks, schools and other landscaped areas.
    • Improve water supply infrastructure to ensure high water quality delivery standards for homeowners and businesses.
    • Identify and address stormwater runoff sources that could carry contaminants to drinking water supplies.
    • Develop, update and implement contingency planning strategies that address water supply contamination or emergency service interruptions.
    • Adopt public education programs to increase awareness of threats to drinking water sources, encourage source water protection, and build support for local water protection initiatives. Make sure businesses and households are aware if they are located within a water supply protection area.
    • Incorporate climate change into the town’s water resource planning and protection.
  • For Homeowners/Business Owners
    • Organize locally and demand action by town officials to protect water supplies.
    • At town meeting and at the ballot box, support investments to improve water supply protection.
    • Support the adoption of local regulations that increase protection of water supplies, such as natural resource protection zoning, restriction of uses that involve the storage or use of hazardous materials, and other protective measures.
    • Support town and local land trust efforts to acquire permanently protected open space in public water supply areas.
    • Know where your town’s water supply protection areas are located. If your home or business is located within a water supply protection area, avoid activities in and around your home or business that could pollute the groundwater beneath it. Even a small spill of a hazardous substance (see the list below) can cause major contamination of groundwater.
    • Don’t dump hazardous substances down the drain. Household chemicals, paints, thinners, solvents, pharmaceuticals and other hazardous materials can leach into groundwater and drinking water supplies. Properly dispose of hazardous wastes during designated collection days at local transfer stations.
    • Work to achieve zero stormwater runoff from your property. Direct roof runoff from downspouts away from paved areas. Install rain gardens or rain barrels to collect water. Maximize permeable areas and native plantings that help absorb stormwater and prevent water runoff to roads. Native plants are also more drought tolerant and require less watering.
    • Eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Reduce, or better yet, eliminate turf grass lawns. Encourage your town, local school and golf courses to reduce or eliminate fertilizer and pesticide use.
    • Conserve water usage inside and outside your house or business. For example, avoid watering the lawn during summertime drought conditions.
    • If using a private well, conduct regular testing, including testing for contaminants of emerging concern that are more likely to occur in the region.
    • Maintain your on-site septic systems properly by having it pumped regularly—every three years is recommended. Consider an advanced wastewater treatment system to treat nutrients.
  • For State Government
    • Adopt more protective standards to address unregulated contaminants and contaminants of emerging concern.
    • Adopt regulations to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
    • Incorporate climate change into water resource planning and protection.
  • For Regional Government
    • Maintain, and where possible, improve, rigorous protections of drinking water supply areas within the Cape Cod Commission’s regulatory review jurisdiction.
    • Cleanup municipal drinking water supplies in locations where county-controlled activities are responsible for contaminating groundwater.
    • Incorporate climate change into water resource planning and protection.