Conservation Law Foundation and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay Take Action to Expedite Clean Up of Polluted Cape Cod Bays | Conservation Law Foundation

Conservation Law Foundation and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay Take Action to Expedite Clean Up of Polluted Cape Cod Bays

Brian Barth Brian Barth

Groups Sue EPA for Violations of Clean Water Act

Karen Wood, CLF, (617) 850-1722,
Rob Hancock, The Coalition for Buzzards Bay, (508) 999-6363, x222,

BOSTON, MA  August 25, 2010 –The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and The Coalition for Buzzards Bay (CBB) today took action to expedite a much-needed clean up of Cape Cod’s coastal waters by holding federal and county authorities accountable for reducing nitrogen pollution, a present and growing threat to the fragile bays and estuaries that support the Cape’s economy. In a pair of legal actions commenced today, CLF and CBB said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not fulfilled its legal requirements under the federal Clean Water Act to adequately permit and regulate the discharge of nitrogen into the Cape’s waters. On Cape Cod, nitrogen pollution is caused primarily by untreated or insufficiently treated human wastewater from septic systems, stormwater systems and wastewater treatment plants flowing through groundwater into the coastal waters.

“The destruction of Cape Cod’s bays and estuaries must not be allowed to continue unchecked,” said John Kassel, president of CLF. “Decades of foot-dragging are now threatening the very lifeblood of the Cape. We know the culprit and we know the solution. We need the Obama administration to prioritize clean-up of this treasured resource as it has with the Chesapeake Bay and for the EPA to step up to the plate and fulfill its legal obligation to control nitrogen pollution.”

“The problem is clear; 18 years of our data confirm that Buzzards Bay harbors and coves are being suffocated by nitrogen,” said Mark Rasmussen, President of The Coalition for Buzzards Bay.  “Fixing the nitrogen problem will take time, innovation, and financial assistance for our communities.  We can’t have EPA on the sidelines any longer.  It is time to get serious about saving our Bays.”

CLF and CBB’s complaint against the EPA focuses on the sources of nitrogen pollution and how those sources are defined and regulated. Currently, discharges from septic systems, stormwater drainage and wastewater treatment facilities through groundwater account for the majority of controllable nitrogen inputs into the bays on the Cape. These discharges are not subject to the stringent controls required under EPA’s permitting program for direct, or “point” sources. In the complaint, CLF and CBB argue that the EPA violated both the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedure Act when it approved 13 nitrogen pollution budgets across the Cape that did not identify these sources as point sources, and therefore did not seek to reduce their contribution to nitrogen pollution, as required by law.

Additionally, CLF and CBB have asserted that the EPA, the Cape Cod Commission and the Barnstable County Commission have failed to fulfill their obligations to implement an areawide Water Quality Management Plan, also in violation of the Clean Water Act. The plaintiffs are calling for the Commissions and EPA to fulfill their obligations to update the plan and implement the required remedial actions. The plan, which was published in 1978, identified nitrogen pollution as a serious threat to the Cape’s water resources, and was intended to provide a comprehensive approach to improve water quality and wastewater disposal problems on the Cape. CLF and CBB have issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue.

Unique Geology
Septic systems can be an effective method of wastewater treatment that protects waterways from pollution while replenishing groundwater supplies. However, on the Cape, wastewater from septic systems moves through the coarse, sandy soils very quickly into the imperiled bays. As a result, wastewater, still laden with the pollutant nitrogen, flows into the Cape’s high groundwater table and travels untreated into bays and estuaries.

Excess nitrogen acts like a fertilizer, causing massive algae blooms that choke off oxygen and threaten animal and plant species. Excessive algae growth can render the Cape’s bays unsafe for swimming, boating and shellfish consumption, and can also cause widespread fish kills, such as the one in Orleans, MA in November 2008.

The Conservation Law Foundation ( works to solve the most significant environmental challenges facing New England.  CLF’s advocates use law, economics and science to create innovative strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health and promote vital communities in our region.  Founded, in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The Coalition for Buzzards Bay ( is a private, non-profit membership organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of Buzzards Bay and its watershed. The organization works to improve the health of the Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research and advocacy and is supported by more than 7,000 members.