Toxic, bright green algae blooms. Shorelines strewn with rotting fish. Tragicially, these disturbing sights are becoming more commonplace around New England’s legendary water bodies , as years of unmitigated nutrient pollution take their toll on Cape Cod, Great Bay, Lake Champlain, the Blackstone River, and Narragansett Bay.
These waters contain excess levels of nitrogen or phosphorous, a problem known as nutrient pollution. The sources are fertilizer runoff from agriculture and lawns, animal waste from confined animal feeding operations, and human sewage improperly treated by septic systems or overflowed from combined sewer stormwater treatment systems that are common in the Northeast.
The surplus nutrients cause toxic algae blooms, which deplete oxygen and make the water uninhabitable for most species. Such pollution closes beaches, clogs up ponds and lakes, destroys habitat, taints drinking water, and causes fish kills where thousands of fish go belly up at once. At its worst, nutrient pollution literally kills our bays and oceans, creating massive areas called dead zones, devoid of every living thing. Right here in New England, dead zones are already present and growing in Narragansett Bay and the Long Island Sound.
The EPA has been slow to establish strict enough controls on nutrient pollution to maintain the water quality dictated by the federal Clean Water Act. Without sufficient enforcement, polluters have little motivation to fix the problem. CLF is leading the fight against this growing, but controllable threat to clean water and all who depend upon it.
State by state, water body by water body, CLF is challenging current regulations that allow nutrient pollution to continue, pushing for stricter controls on the sources and stronger enforcement of the law.
In Lake Champlain, CLF has focused on changing the math by which water health is calculated. Comprehensive clean-up plans and hundreds of millions of dollars have not worked, CLF contends, because pollution budgets for the Lake have been set too high, giving a pass to industrial farms and wastewater treatment facilities to continue their dirty practices.
On Cape Cod, CLF is taking aim at loopholes in the Clean Water Act that have allowed lax enforcement of nitrogen pollution from septic systems. In New Hampshire and Massachusetts, CLF is pushing for more advanced pollution controls at wastewater treatment plants where discharges of millions of gallons of nutrient-laden wastewater into fragile water bodies threaten not only those resources, but those downstream.
Although the cause and the solution may differ by water body, there is one thing these cases have in common: the problem is solvable. Still, addressing the problem will require good science-based planning, financial investment, individual commitment and political will. CLF is working to ensure strong protections so that the choice for cities and towns is not one for clean water or against, but rather how to act as quickly and cost-effectively as possible to preserve this most fundamental source of health and prosperity.