Water Resource Plan -- Frequently Asked Questions

Brewster Integrated Water Resource Management Plan
Frequently Asked Questions – As of June 2010

The Town of Brewster is developing a town-wide Integrated Water Resource Management Plan (IWRMP) to assess current surface water and groundwater conditions and identify future needs and priorities to protect these valuable water resources. An important goal of the IWRMP will be to balance the town’s water quality needs with its ability to finance necessary improvements. Priorities will be set and a schedule established that will maximize the effect of any public improvements within and between watersheds.

1. What is the purpose of the IWRMP?

  • The IWRMP is a tool to guide the Town in addressing Brewster’s long-term water management needs through 2030. These needs include examining existing and future conditions to:
  • Evaluate and address significant controllable nitrogen loads in watersheds that flow to degraded estuaries (e.g., Pleasant Bay)
  • Evaluate and address significant controllable phosphorous issues that are degrading the water quality of freshwater ponds
  • Maintain the excellent drinking water quality in the town’s well fields.
  • Expand the use of smart growth tools by evaluating and modifying Zoning By-Laws and subdivision regulations, and Board of Health, Conservation and Planning Board regulations (soft solutions). Good by-laws and regulations can, for example, assist in reducing the amount of stormwater from residential and commercial development and provide for on-site treatment of stormwater
  • Meet acceptable wastewater management practices either through continued use of on-site Title 5 subsurface disposal systems and Innovative Alternative systems or other offsite satellite or centralized treatment processes (hard solutions).

By addressing these needs, Brewster will continue to provide a desired quality of life for year-round and seasonal residents while remaining a vibrant tourist community.

2. Why is nitrogen an issue?

Nitrogen deposited in an estuary or embayment acts as a fertilizer and stimulates the production of algae in the salt water. The algae can become so dense that desirable eel grass beds, shellfish resources, and overall water quality (as well as boating, swimming and overall aesthetics) are negatively affected. Also, reduced light penetration affects healthy plant growth, and decaying plants and algae settle to the bottom, using up available oxygen in the water which can result in fish kills and unpleasant odors. If nitrogen is allowed to continue to flow into these embayments at excessive levels, these coastal waters will be severely degraded.

Nitrogen enters the embayments through groundwater or surface waters from several sources, including wastewater effluent from on-site Title 5 septic systems; infiltration from lawn and garden fertilizers; stormwater run-off from pavements and roofs; cranberry bogs; animal wastes; and from atmospheric deposition. The first five sources are considered to be controllable while direct atmospheric deposition is not. Title 5 septic systems only remove a small amount (about 10 percent) of the entering nitrogen while more sophisticated on-site nutrient removal systems can remove up to about 50 percent nitrogen. Studies on the Cape have shown that nitrogen entering the embayments from septic systems typically account for 75 to 85 percent of the controllable source.

3. Why is phosphorus an issue?

Phosphorus acts as a fertilizer to freshwater algae in the same way that nitrogen does to algae in salt water. Additional phosphorus results in algal blooms that make the water more turbid and reduce light penetration. When algal growth becomes excessive, the degradation by bacteria of the dead algae that settle on the pond bottom can reduce available oxygen concentrations (creating anoxic conditions-no oxygen-in deeper ponds). Some species of algae that grow under these conditions can release toxins that can affect animals and people who consume the water.

Sources of phosphorus are similar to those of nitrogen as described in question #2. There is one other significant source of phosphorus in ponds, which is phosphorus that is internally generated at the pond bottom when the bottom of the pond has no oxygen. In several ponds on Cape Cod, the internally generated phosphorus is larger than the phosphorus from watershed sources.

4. Who is involved in developing the IWRMP?

Locally, the Comprehensive Water Planning Committee (CWPC) is coordinating the IWRMP. The eight-member CWPC is comprised of community members with support from town staff; they will oversee the water resource management planning process. As the lead group for the town, the CWPC has contracted with engineering consultant Camp Dresser & McKee Inc. (CDM) for technical guidance.

5. What is the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP)?

The MEP is a program to evaluate the nitrogen impacts on 89 embayments in the southeastern part of the state, including all of Cape Cod. Its purpose is to provide an analytical means to evaluate nitrogen entering the embayments and develop nitrogen thresholds for each embayment that will restore or maintain healthy water quality. Under the Federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) have the power to require communities contributing nitrogen to the particular embayment to meet regulatory limits set by calculating the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of nitrogen. The MEP, funded by the communities and by the state, is being conducted by School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at UMass, Dartmouth under an agreement with MassDEP.

6. What will be looked at in developing the IWRMP?

The IWRMP consists of several elements with a focus on protecting saltwater estuaries, fresh water ponds and drinking water supplies. The MEP completed its assessment of Pleasant Bay and Namskaket Creek. Nitrogen reduction is required for the Pleasant Bay watershed which includes portions of Brewster while the Namskaket Creek watershed is not limited by nitrogen and will not require any actions to reduce nitrogen in its watershed. A comprehensive review of current wastewater and stormwater management practices, and the impact of the recently adopted natural resource protection design for the Pleasant Bay watershed will be conducted to evaluate how these nitrogen reductions can best be realized. Existing water quality for the ponds and drinking water wells will be evaluated to determine their health and surrounding conditions assessed to see how nutrient sources of phosphorus and nitrogen may be impacting them. Using available information and projections, the future long-term needs of the town will be assessed, and alternatives to address those needs will be evaluated for effectiveness, technical feasibility and cost.

7. Why does Brewster have to develop and implement an IWRMP?

There are signs of water quality degradation in Brewster’s ponds and coastal embayments. Brewster representatives and residents understand the importance of having clean and safe water to drink, swim and recreate in. MassDEP will establish a TMDL for each embayment once the MEP reports have been finalized. That will require the town to implement a plan to remove the required amount of nitrogen to restore the water quality of the particular embayment. The town is moving forward now with the IWRMP so it can develop the appropriate plan on its own timeline rather than on a DEP schedule. The abutting towns of Chatham, Orleans, Harwich and Dennis are all in various stages of completing similar plans to address the nitrogen issues in their communities. Brewster is part of three MEP evaluations: Pleasant Bay MEP with Chatham, Harwich and Orleans; Namskaket MEP with Orleans; and Herring River MEP with Dennis and Harwich. The 2009 Brewster Ponds Study, prepared by SMAST, reported on the review of the volunteer data from 29 Brewster ponds monitored between 2001 and 2007. The findings are that24 of the ponds have average dissolved oxygen concentrations that fail to attain minimum state regulatory thresholds in at least one sampling station, and all 29 had excess amounts of phosphorous. The IWRMP will examine the causes of this pollution and identify potential remedial actions, as well as preventative actions that can be taken.

8. Are neighboring communities participating where watersheds are shared between adjacent communities?

Yes, Brewster is participating in an on-going collaborative effort - Pleasant Bay Alliance for the Pleasant Bay Watershed with Harwich, Chatham, and Orleans. The Herring River and the Quivett Creek) watersheds are shared with Harwich and Dennis. The Namskaket Creek watershed is shared with Orleans.

9. If impacts are affecting estuaries, are the groundwater wells protected?

Fresh water bodies and groundwater supply wells are more resilient to nitrogen impacts than salt water embayments. Salt water is much more sensitive to elevated nitrogen levels, and the recommended limits to the estuaries are less than 1.0 mg/l (milligrams per liter), while limits to drinking water are 10 mg/l. There is an order-of-magnitude higher sensitivity in estuarine systems. The most recent five-year average of nitrogen sampling in the Brewster water system is about 0.77 mg/l (nitrate), in part because the Zone of Contribution to the town’s wells have limited development.

10. As a Brewster resident, what can I do to reduce my nitrogen and phosphorus contributions? Where can I get how-to information on reducing my pollution footprint?

Septic systems reportedly contribute 75 to 85 percent of the controllable nitrogen to the groundwater. Septic systems should be periodically (every 3 years) inspected and maintained by pumping of excessive sludge on a regular basis.

In your home…

  • Use detergents and cleaning products that do not contain phosphorous.
  • Eliminate or reduce use of polishes or industrial strength cleaners.
  • Do not allow hazardous products to be flushed down drains; participate in local hazardous waste collection days.

In your yard...

  • Select grass types appropriate for the area, such as fescues mixed with rye grass;
  • Keep grass 2-3 inches long and leave clippings when you mow;
  • If you must use fertilizer, use a slow release organic type.
  • ­Use native plants wherever possible and plant and/or maintain vegetated buffers (at least 50 feet along pond shores and 100 feet adjacent to salt water and marshland)
  • Channel run-off from paved surfaces or roofs onto grasses for nitrogen uptake. Install rain barrels and use it to water gardens and lawns.

Clean up after your pet…

Animal feces left on roadsides, walking paths, and beaches contribute nitrogen and bacteria to nearby wetlands and coastal waters. Carry your own plastic bag!

To learn more on how to reduce your pollution footprint, go to:
Brewster Comprehensive Water Planning Committee website: http://www.town.brewster.ma.us/
Barnstable County Cooperative Extension website: http://www.capecodextension.org/
Orleans Pond Coalition website: http://www.orleanspondcoalition.org/

11. What is the timeline of the Project?

The first phase of this project, which involves an overall evaluation of water quality conditions, has begun and is focusing on defining the existing conditions of Brewster’s drinking water supplies, fresh water ponds, groundwater and coastal/ estuary resources using existing information. This evaluation will help to determine existing and future impacts to those resources. The CWPC and CDM will then develop a prioritized list of water management needs that should be addressed first versus those that can wait. This phase is anticipated to be completed in late summer 2010.
The next phase will begin to screen alternatives to address the needs identified in the first phase. This will include initial evaluations of local and/or decentralized wastewater solutions as well as potential regional solutions with abutting communities to help address the needs. Solutions may also involve soft educational or zoning type solutions as well as engineered infrastructure solutions that would address stormwater reduction and/or treatment. In this phase the town will ask for environmental permitting agency reviews regarding the needs and initial alternatives screening. Future phases will evaluate, in detail, and develop preliminary layouts and costs of screened alternatives. All of the work done in each of the work phases will make up the comprehensive IWRMP. Once completed, there will be a formal regulatory agency review and approval process.

12. Can Brewster afford to do this?

Yes. We all live here because of the high quality of life , which includes, beautiful beaches, ponds and coastal waters, high-quality drinking water, and general access to several recreational activities, Our tourist economy is based on these same resources. Even if MassDEP did not require the implementation of a plan to meet the TMDLs for each embayment and pond, Brewster still needs to take some action to maintain our water quality, our quality of life and tourism economy.

13. Will this plan result in sewers for the entire town of Brewster?

No. The IWRMP is a planning tool that comprehensively evaluates current and future conditions as well as the best options to manage Brewster’s water resources. The town will decide the most appropriate plan of action based on the IWRMP.

14. As a Brewster property owner, will my property values be decreased?

Projects in other communities have demonstrated that enhanced wastewater management actually increases property values. Improving wastewater management will restore water quality in our coastal waters and fresh water bodies as well as continue to protect our excellent drinking water resources. Land acquisition has been an important tool for protecting our drinking water supplies and studies have shown that property values are higher the closer a property is to open space. All these factors combine to preserve property values.

15. How can I get more information or contact the CWPC to get my opinions heard?

An important element of this project includes public outreach. The CWPC has been formed to provide for an exchange of information. Community meetings are scheduled to keep residents and business owners informed about the progress. CWPC meetings and community meetings are listed on the calendar on the town’s website, and all are welcome. Copies of the meeting schedule and other project documents are also available at Town Hall and the public library.
For more information, visit: www.town.brewster.ma.us.